My mother, of blessed memory, was one of those people who "made do" with very little. But she was incredibly intelligent and imbued with a deep sense of "Tikkun Olam," healing the world.
For as long as I can remember, she was always involved with organizations which helped people. When I was a child, I remember our doorbell ringing, some men in black coats and hats standing downstairs and mom going down to talk to them. Subsequently, she was on the phone for what seemed like hours, making many calls and finally, after the last call, hanging up with a satisfied look on her face. When I asked what that was all about, she merely shrugged and said that she was able to "get something for someone." This happened many, many times.
As the years went by, I noticed that she would be on the telephone asking about furniture, groceries, monetary help, rental apartments, jobs, etc. and where she could acquire such items. What I didn't know and learned about or figured out many years later was that my mother was a one-woman resettlement agent for refugees from the Holocaust. And she did this on her own, utilizing the connections she had made through her volunteer work. No one could say "no" to Fannie. It was years later that it dawned on me that neighbors who had lived downstairs from us were survivors. She and they never said a word.
As a teenager (yes, before cell phones) I could not talk on the phone at night because she was always on it, listening for hours to tales of woe from her friends. And she would dispense advice much like the Dear Abby columns of today. And it wasn't always advice. Sometimes she would be able to find money or groceries for them to tide them over when things were tough. So many times she would say to me, with that twinkle in her eye, "If I hung out a shingle I could make a lot of money doing this."
All these things she did for others were, for the most part, done anonymously. She vigorously guarded her privacy and would not allow her name to be used in connection with any of these "good works." However, one day a certificate of appreciation came in the mail from a prominent Boston Jewish organization with her name emblazoned on it, along with a wonderful letter praising her. As she read the letter, I saw my mother gasp and her face blushed into a deep red. She was totally embarrassed by the recognition. She had been invited to the luncheon where these were given out and she had elected not to go and be publicly acknowledged.
While doing all these things, she worked full time as an Executive Secretary at our local Jewish Community Center, a non-profit offering no benefits (except that the building was right next door to our house) and not a lot of money. She was friends with everyone who walked through those doors, adults and children alike.
My mother never talked to me about the work she did. I just observed her actions and only really understood the enormity of her wonderful work long after I left the house. She is an inspiration to me and is the exemplar of the spirit of Maimonides' eighth degree of tzedakah.