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The evergreen gift of giving

Posted in Things We Love“In New York, the Jews go to eat in Chinatown on Christmas day. In LA, they go to your house”, commented my friend Shalit when I invited her, like every year, to my Christmas lunch. I paused for a second and I realized that, indeed, every single person around my holiday table, except me, will be Jewish. Jews for Christmas, I call them, a coterie of friends and family who like to indulge my need for Christmas and gifts under the tree.

The tree, by the way, is always set up by me with help from the dogs, now veterans of this yearly routine. They even learnt not to touch the ornaments, although I do not trust to leave the gifts, after Portia, on her first Christmas, ate most of them and their wrappings.

In my case, Christmas is an excuse to celebrate a moment of closeness with family and friends, rather than a religious occasion, and I have been trying to replicate the Italian Christmases of my youth since I moved to LA – my effort doesn’t come close to the tables brimming with food and distant relatives, and cousins I would see only once a year, but it will do.

These days I only buy very small, token gifts for the people who attend my lunch. If everyone were like me, retailers would have a meager holiday season.  But what I do like to do is research charities that could benefit from the money I save on not buying lots of gifts and I make whatever donation I can. Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, and his wife Sheryl WuDunn, have always been a trusted source of suggestions. This year I found a couple of interesting ones in the Huffington Post and some I researched myself on-line. They all reflect the causes that are dearest to my heart and that always make me think how much more I wish I could do.

Bill and Melinda Gates wrote an article article for the Huffington Post on some of the organizations they support/caught their eye for their outstanding work.  The ones I was particularly keen on were and, started only a few months ago, is a crowdsourcing site aimed at funding projects all over the world  promoting gender equality. I was particularly interested in donating to the Fistula clinic in Ghana. Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal stemming from prolonged or obstructed childbirth, totally preventable, that leaves women incontinent. Because of the stigma attached to incontinence, women are often shunned by their families and communities.

Like Kiva, to whom I have been donating for years (another crowdsourcing site that funds small entrepreneurial projects all over the world), you can pick a person or a group, donate as much or as little as you can and, once the project is fully funded, you will be kept in the loop on its progress (and your donation will be repaid).

Image from
Image from

We take clean, drinking water for granted but 800 million people around the world don’t. The life of many, especially women, is centered around the trips to and from the nearest well to get water.’s intent is to provide clean water to as many people who need it as possible. The beauty of this organization is that 100% of your donation goes to the work in the field.

Sofagirl, who has no idea I am writing this, works for a wonderful non-profit in Cape Town, Positive Heroes, which works to eradicate the stigma of HIV/AIDS by showing that, with a correct regimen of ARV drugs, anyone affected by the virus can lead an active and normal life. Check out their site for some inspiring stories (and feel free to donate).

A baby elephant
A baby elephant

As the crotchety old lady that I am becoming, I decided that, if there is a next life, my mission will be to help animals. All my dogs, past and present, have come from Boxer Rescue LA, a no-kill shelter started over 30 years ago by Ursula Sauthier, a German lady with a penchant for boxers. All abandoned boxers from San Diego to Bakersfield now end up at Boxer Rescue, where they are all healed if sick, trained if displaying behavioural problems, and then put up for adoption or foster. Not a single one is killed and potential owners are carefully vetted for the best matches.

My heart bleeds every time I hear of elephants or rhinos brutally poached for their tusks. Elephants in particular are such loving and intelligent animals, organized in matriarchal communities – I recently read the fantastic story of The Elephant Whisperer, aka Lawrence Anthony, who passed away last March. Living on a large reservation in S. Africa, Mr. Anthony gave shelter to two herds of wild elephants, with very much difficulty and a huge learning curve for everyone involved, elephants included. The book is heartwarming and the follow-up story of Mr. Anthony’s death and the herds of elephants appearing on his doorstep, in the days following, as if to pay their respects, would make anyone think twice before killing one of these animals. Lawrence Anthony was also one of the founders of the Earth Organization whose mission statement states“ the Earth Organization is an independent, non-profit group which seeks to reverse the dwindling spiral of the plant and animal kingdoms and our environment through education and action”. Check out  their website to see what they do and how you can make a difference.

Hoping to have provided just a little bit of inspiration, enjoy your Holiday Season and don’t forget to breathe!

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