Gadsden Public Library Assistant Director Carol Wright (left) and Director Craig Scott (right) discuss the generosity of Rabbi Jeff and Mindy Glickman who contributed to the GPL. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Amidst the disdain and division that abound in today’s world, one benevolent Connecticut couple sought to bridge that gap – with their altruism traveling over 1,000 miles to the town of Gadsden, Alabama.
When Gadsden Public Library Assistant Director Carol Wright received an out-of-state letter and $100 check in the mail, dedicated as a donation inquiring about the library’s needs and its work, she knew she must respond without second thought. What began as a simple, yet profoundly thoughtful gesture soon transformed into a priceless reward – the kindness of strangers giving a gift unmeasurable in material, affecting hundreds of lives with one act and inspiring others to follow the same path.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe, husband and wife team Rabbi Jeff and Mindy Glickman became increasingly aware of an idea that reigns in truth: things that happen far away affect people locally. Nothing that occurs is entirely unrelated, connections arise and the responses of others in neighboring states and countries impact families in towns oceans away.
While listening to National Public Radio one day, Rabbi Jeff overheard a restaurant owner detailing the pandemic’s consequence on his business. The restaurant owner did not desire donations or a tax break to help his business. He only wanted one change to occur: customers. That statement spoke to Rabbi Jeff, who pondered how he could become a customer to all things that he deems important, in all places – not just those harboring in his home town.
With the mission of helping in their hearts, Rabbi Jeff and Mindy adopted a mantra for themselves: give locally, everywhere. As their awareness and understanding of hurt and need magnified throughout the nation, the couple knew it was their responsibility to make a difference, however possible. The pair assessed their savings, determining to invest in people rather than stocks, with the return proving much greater.
“Jeff and I are in the center of some communities and we walk in a lot of places,” said Mindy. “Just keeping our ears to the ground, we noticed that a lot of people were lonely and hurting. With the lens of us being shut down in this pandemic, and you hear the news and you hear what’s going on in neighboring states that might be far away, but just a few weeks later that news isn’t so far away. We realize that everywhere affects us. We’ve got our flashlights on and our spotlights looking and shining light. Everywhere is local.”
The Glickmans and their stalwart RV Seymour drove 12,000 miles in one month, meeting real people in their homes and exploring communities nationwide, learning and listening to incredible stories and hearing from a variety of voices across the United States. They visited synagogues and social service agencies, contributing to every United Way in the nation, joining every National Public Radio station and donating to hundreds of libraries.
One of those libraries resides at 254 South College Street in Etowah County, as a department of the City of Gadsden. Established in 1906, the Gadsden Public Library operates as much more than a dwelling place for beloved books, housing the heart of its community with open arms. Though the City of Gadsden addresses many of the library’s expenses, the city does not cover the entirety of the library’s public programming, which fuels so many philanthropic efforts and educational and entertaining opportunities for the community.
In 2006, the GPL Foundation formed as an advocate for the library’s role in the community, generating support to ensure the continuation of the organization’s free programming made readily available to the public. As the foundation and library grew throughout the years, so did its mission expand to safeguard its citizens, several of whom are considered underserved and marginalized, creating a welcoming environment enriched with resources to assist the varying needs of the community.
The Gadsden Public Library actively supports a diverse collection of individuals, including remaining involved in the black community not only with Black History Month programming, but through an ongoing oral history project that captures local Civil Rights struggles, participating in clean-up days at the historical Sixth Street Cemetery and curating personal papers from one of the first black students who in enrolled in 1963’s all-white University of Alabama with the James Hood Collection.
Award-winning vocational program the Beautiful Rainbow Café calls the GPL home, developing a successful, thriving and efficient eatery completely staffed by students experiencing cognitive disabilities. Between shifts, the library’s teen department hosts programs for those students.
Countless programming abounds at the GPL, from introducing public dialogue concerning relevant subjects like race, mental health, gender and socioeconomic barriers to providing educational outreach to local organizations like the Special Programming for Achievement Network (SPAN) which works with at-risk youth to develop the social, academic and behavioral skills necessary to become productive members of society.
In addition to serving as a USDA Summer Food Program distribution site and feeding over 30 children and teenagers from low-income households, the library serves as a safe environment for youth and adults who experience substance abuse, domestic abuse and violence, unemployment, mental health issues and homelessness. Daily the passionate and caring library staff go above and beyond to identify and assist individuals in crisis, providing them with food, water and personal hygiene products while connecting them with social service organizations and resources for further aid.
“A library can no longer be a place just for old, good, dusty books,” said GPL Director Craig Scott. “Yes, we have a lot of books out there and we keep the collection up well. But the library is so much more – we have to stay relevant to the community. We like to build partnerships with other likeminded organizations around town. We’re thinking of the community and what they need out there. We’re trying to fill their needs, not our own.”
“All those connections are a necessity,” said Wright. “They help us stay relevant and provide more services; they extend our services to the public. Serving that need, bridging the gaps, being that interlocker and making sure people know where things are [is part of our job]. They may be coming in here for safety, they may be coming in here for information. If we can identify who those people are and we know that we have a connection that will help them, we try to make that connection.”
Scott shared that when Wright walked into his office with a check and letter from the Glickmans, he was shocked and elated. Though it was only $100, to Scott, Wright and the library, the check felt like $1 million.
“This is unheard of,” said Scott. “It helps prove that not just us, but public libraries in general do such admirable work that it gets recognized by folks who aren’t even associated with us. All of us around the country are doing good work. [What the Glickmans did] recognizes just not us, but all public libraries, no matter where they are.”
Wright wrote to the Glickmans straightaway, producing a heartfelt letter that beautifully displayed her personal passion for the library’s work and the goodwill the organization distributes throughout its community. She enclosed with the letter library cards, inviting the couple to become members. Though the Glickmans and the GPL played phone tag for a bit, the once-strangers were able to finally connect and continue the conversation that began with an envelope in the mail.
Rabbi Jeff asked Wright if she ever felt called to something, as he felt called to the Tour To The Wonderful, what he and Mindy coined their giving journey. Wright responded with librarianship, a profession she discovered encompassed all the unique and intriguing jobs she held in the past, from working as an archeologist and dance instructor to handling rare books with care and serving in the special education field. Librarianship connected all the dots in Wright’s life, providing her with a career where her previous experiences could improve the present and better the future of others.
Not everyone read the cover letter that accompanied the check, asking of the library’s needs and its efforts, Rabbi Jeff told Wright. Not everyone responded to that initial act of kindness. But Wright did – and her appreciation did not go unnoticed. Because of Wright’s gracious correspondence and her own contributions, the Glickman’s donation to the GPL did not stop with $100. Their gift to the library only increased, with the couple donating $2,000 more.
“Because of what Carol (Wright) wrote and is doing, because of the Gadsden Library, [that money] is able to be transformed into motivating a whole community and bridging divides in this country,” said Rabbi Jeff. “[Carol Wright can know that] someone from Connecticut who has never been to Gadsden cares about her. We gave her a donation, and we gave her a story. It was our story, but now because they’re involved, it’s their story too.”
“I was speechless,” said Wright. “We play a role in our community that’s very similar to a church in the work we do with people in need who walk through our doors. It was like a fairy-godfather [moment]. Rabbi Jeff and Mindy are amazing people…they are philanthropists and clever. Maybe for other libraries $2,000 is not a lot of money, but for us, even a dollar…we can do so much with that. We can do really big things with small amounts of money, because it becomes more.”
Rabbi Jeff and Mindy treasure Jewish values instilled by their parents and grandparents that mirror the purpose behind their Tour To The Wonderful. One of these principles that inspired Rabbi Jeff in his giving journey is tzedakah.
Rabbi Jeff shared that while tzedakah is frequently translated as charity, that definition does not encompass the Jewish pillar’s true emphasis. Charity derives from the Latin word Caritas, referencing a love of human kind and correlates with the word cardiac, referring to the heart. Giving in regard to charity becomes unanimous with feeling. When people give out of charity, they often give because they feel compelled to do so.
Tzedakah has nothing to do with feeling. Rather, tzedakah emerges as a religious obligation to perform righteousness – to respond to one’s community in a responsible manner and to help others not because of feeling alone, but because it is the just action to take. Tzedakah prompts individuals to serve others as peaceable citizens, living with integrity and speaking the truth, extending generosity to all in need.
In return, while one performing tzedakah immediately affects another person in a positive way, the reward proves two-fold in that the person helping others receives a gift through their own generosity. Rabbi Jeff noted that during his research of tzedakah throughout the Bible, scripture does not emphasize how many people to assist, but instead places more importance on not turning anyone away. In Proverbs 31, the virtuous woman extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy; in Deuteronomy 15 the Lord commands His people to remain openhanded to their fellow Israelites and those who are poor and needy in the land.
“It doesn’t talk about their (the poor or needy) hand or their heart,” said Rabbi Jeff. “It’s your hand that is talked about. A Jewish teaching we have says that the beggar that comes to your household front door helps you more than you help the beggar.”
Rabbi Jeff associated tzedakah with the concept of sowing seeds into a garden. When a tomato seed is planted into the soil and rain falls onto the seed, with each watering the sprout flourishes further until the plant becomes fully formed. Should that rain fall onto a corn plant, the same rain would create the same affect onto the corn – nourishing and encouraging its growth – until it reaches its complete potential. Though the outcome is different, the repetitive process is identical.
People are plants, sowing seeds into their lives as they develop throughout different stages of maturity. The rain represents tzedakah, the philosophy of giving and extending righteousness that aids individuals in their own journeys, showering them with invaluable lessons and wisdom necessary for their personal growth.
“What are we put on earth to do?” said Rabbi Jeff. “We are here to become the best version of ourselves we can be. We are here to be who we are intended to be. When we do tzedakah, when we assume our responsibilities in the community, we become even more ourselves than we were before. When you say no to people, ‘No I won’t help you,’ you shrivel up a little bit as a person.”
Faraway actions produce nearby results. From the seed the Glickmans planted, tended and watered as an act of faithfulness, a ministry of hope blooms in a community miles from their doorstep. As Wright, Scott and the library staff cradle such an incredible donation and assess the most profitable use of the funds, thoughts of summer reading programs and blessing bags for the homeless population arise. While the Gadsden Public Library determines the responsible distribution of its donation, the meaning behind the contribution resounds far greater – illustrating that no service is too small and one simple deed holds the power to transform lives. Within every act of kindness resides an invaluable reward: in giving, one also receives.
“You have to see the people doing the work, the heroes on the ground,” said Mindy. “It’s one thing to give money, but you have to know that there are hands out there and not just organizations. Behind the organizations are people – and those are the people you want to meet.”
For more information on The Glickmans’ Tour To The Wonderful, visit www.turntothewonderful.com.