We all have our favorite charities. We tend to give more money to those charities that are close to our own experience, that have helped us or someone we know, or have touched our heartstrings in some way. Most of us give to as many charities as we can, even if it is a small amount. Non-Jewish door-to-door canvassers for secular charities like the Cancer or Heart Foundation have told me that they love collecting in Jewish neighborhoods, because almost every door they knock on responds with something, and with a smile.
In our hearts, when we give tzedakah, we hope we will never need to call on the charities to help us but, as well spouses know, that isn’t the reality. Charities like the MS Society, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, etc., become all too familiar in the life of well spouses who often look to them for the support and help they need. In most Jewish communities, our own support charities often come to our aid as well. But asking for help is painful. You feel fragile and vulnerable. And that is why it is so very important, how the charity representative responds to you, whether with help or the inability to help. Rightly or wrongly, it can even affect future donations.
Leah was trying to get help with an air ambulance transport. She desperately needed to transport her ailing husband and normal air travel was out of the question. Many of her friends were calling their contacts to see what assistance they could get. Leah was beyond desperate as she wondered how she would pay the $16,000 bill that she would have to put on her charge card.
Through a mutual contact, she received a call from a gentleman who told her that “for sure” he could help her. He gave her two numbers to call. He told Leah to say he referred her to them. One had access to private air transportation that often transported people like her husband. The other would probably help with the bill if the transport option didn’t work out. The man gave Leah his three personal phone numbers, and told her to get back to him. If by some slight chance these charities couldn’t help, he had other contacts. Leah was beyond delighted. Help had finally come.
Leah called the first number and using the gentleman’s name got right through to the appropriate person. Leah told her story and explained her need. In response she was coolly told that that organization only helped transport people with a certain type of disease and not others, like her husband’s. And then the phone went dead.
Leah was hurt. There was no “I’m sorry for your plight,” or “I really wish we could help.” There was no “Maybe you should call…” or any words of support or encouragement. She told me a few kind words would have helped ease the disappointment. It had been so hard to ask for charity in the first place. But just being treated in this manner was devastating. She felt worse now than before making the call.
Summoning her courage, she tried the next number. She was told the same thing in much the same manner. To make matters worse when, as per his advice, she called back the gentleman who “was sure” he could get her help – he did not take her call. After leaving several messages telling him what had happened, and again asking for his help, Leah was pained when he never returned her call.
Having no other places to try, she finally gave up. She told me that, as panicked as she had been before, she felt worse now. The coldness and apparent lack of caring of the people she had spoken to, along with being ignored by the person who promised to get her help, left her feeling more deserted, alone and more helpless than she had been before looking for charitable help.
Years have gone by since the incident, but Leah and her friends refuse to give to the charities that treated her so coldly. “A kind word, even while telling me they couldn’t help, would have made all the difference. Don’t these people realize how hard it is to even ask for charity? I know it’s wrong, but I can’t bring myself to give to these causes.”
When Chaya Sarah’s husband was transferred, she wanted to move her ailing father to her new city so that she could continue to care for him. As a new resident, she had no knowledge of the facilities available. Many people told her to speak to the head of a specific charity that they felt could direct her and give her guidance. When Chaya Sarah called, she was told, “Oh we don’t do that!” No further referral or assistance of any kind was given. Not even a word of support.
Now, years later, Chaya Sarah volunteers for many agencies, but not this one. She gives generously to many charities but only a token to this one. She told me she prioritizes her tzedakah dollars and the agency that treated her so heartlessly is not on her priority list. Like Leah, she felt fragile and vulnerable when she called for help. A kind word – even without their ability to help, would have made things less unbearable.
Not every agency can help with all the needs and requests they receive. But, the manner in which their inability to help is expressed, can mean so much to the state of mind of the person asking for help. It may also affect the support the agency receives later.
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