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Ah, for Good Ol' Days of Being an Altruist

September 22, 1985

Evelyn De Wolfe recounted (Sept. 8) how in 1912 Lew Zuckerman rented a few rooms for eight days so that three men at the county's facility for the poor could celebrate Passover. Soon thereafter, she reports, he located a house for these men to live in permanently. That house became the first facility of what we now call the Jewish Homes for the Aging.

The thought struck me that even Zuckerman's legendary generosity and energy would be challenged by what he would probably have to face today if he wanted to replicate his singular act of charity:

--Call his lawyers to create a tax-free corporation and ask his accountants to set up books acceptable to the IRS.

--Apply to the county for registration as a charitable organization qualified to solicit funds and the state's Department of Health to be authorized to run a public facility for the aging.

--Get a zoning variance from the local planning authority.

--Contact his insurance agent to write a blanket policy to protect from any liability claims from every imaginable source.

--Visit with a platoon of elected and appointed officials to ensure that the inevitable public protests over impending change would not derail the project.

--Hire a public relations specialist to create an unusual event or find a celebrity to generate sufficient media attention to validate the legitimacy of the enterprise and provide help for fund raising.

There are probably a dozen more steps that a prudent person would also have to take today--including establishing a separate phone line, writing several brochures, and printing cards and stationery.

It all seems so exhausting. Do we need all the rules and precedents that we now live with or are they the result of bureaucrats protecting their turf, experts guarding narrow specialties or busybodies searching for yet another platform?

We seem to be drowning in a sea of forms, suffering from a plague of distrust and withering under the weight of so many egos claiming a piece of the action. Do I yearn for simpler times? No. I yearn for tolerance, patience, and humanity to allow the spirit of real freedom to return to America.


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