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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 7/06/07

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Dear Rachel:

I am raising an issue that should be of great concern in our frum community – the fad/fashion of using Chinese Auctions to give tzedakah. To me, this is a form of gambling and is highly addictive. Through my work as a geriatric social worker, I see many families getting into debt over participation in this activity.

People run up their credit cards in order to try to win the “grand prize” and are then left with a huge debt. I am aware of some who spend cash that should be used to support their children, to buy them clothing and food!

I am by no means against giving charity, but I do feel there are better ways for organizations to fundraise. There are way too many Chinese Auctions taking place, and these exert financial pressures on families who are already burdened by high rents, mortgages, food, clothing, yeshiva tuition, health care, and other basic needs of life.

I suggest that organizations seek other means to fundraise, such as bake sales, yard sales, barbecues, sports events, and other type of social events.

People are truly addicted to Chinese Auctions, and I see this addiction as being no different than going to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, playing the lottery, betting on horses, etc.

When I mention this to others, I am accused of being cheap. I give my ma’aser of tzedakah as required by the Torah, but I won’t place myself in debt gambling at Chinese Auctions. Someone in whom I recently confided about this reacted by saying that people need to control themselves when spending at these functions. But how many people do have self-control?

How many large families are suffering the effects of Chinese Auction addictions and not talking about it, while in the interim this is destroying the financial integrity of the frum family?

I know a person who has not paid child support in more than a year, claims to have no money to pay child support, but seems to have enough to blow on a Chinese Auction.

I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am by no means against giving charity, but it should be done in a way that does not place one’s family in jeopardy.

Thanks for allowing me to unburden myself. Let’s help people in trouble the right way, with the right kind of chesed, and without being judgmental.

A Friend

Dear Friend,

The concept behind the Chinese Auction is not a new one. Tzaddikim of years past would run a goral, a lottery of sorts, to auction off a silver becher (goblet) or a silk bekitche (traditional Chassidic robe) in order to raise money for a good cause.

Unfortunately, the needs out there among our people are great. And there is no doubt that the prizes offered at these so-called Chinese Auction affairs are appealing, enticing, and beckon to the party-goer.

That being said, most people attend functions that they have some affiliation with: their shul, their children’s school, a charity that covers a community’s general needs, etc. In other words, these are organizations they would be writing a check to in any case. Are checks being made out for larger amounts? Some probably are. Most people with whom I have taken up the subject are adamant in not deviating from a preset amount allotted for a set charity, no matter how tempting the prize. Others freely admit to leafing through the inviting colorful brochures that arrive in the mail, dreaming of big wins, and leaving it at that – window-shopping, if you will.

If one is a gambler at heart, his/her craving will not be satisfied at a Chinese Auction charity gathering.

The person who was of the opinion that people need to exercise self-control is onto something. Everyone knows his/her own limits. If someone ends up spending more than what s/he originally intended to in order to secure a better chance to win a preferred item, then the money will have been well spent. Who hasn’t splurged on an evening outfit that ended up costing more than originally anticipated? How about the extravagant meal in that “fancy” restaurant to celebrate an occasion? Is a worthwhile charity not equally deserving of that extra dollar?

Yes, it does seem to boil down to self-control – something we must generate in many areas of our daily living. And yes, charity begins in one’s home. But let’s not get carried away in making the fund-raising Chinese Auction the scapegoat for our ills.

If one needs to unwind and a couple of hours of pleasant socializing in a genial atmosphere will do the trick, a Chinese Auction may be just what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, if your timetable is cramped as it is, but the charity is one you believe in and wish to support, your mailed-in contribution will be just as appreciated.

To go or not to go… The option really is all yours.

Thank you for writing.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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