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April 18, 2015 / 29 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘charity’

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

A Fabulous Evening For The Fashion-Minded

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

What brought together hundreds of Jewish fashionistas to attend an event with women with taste, class and an appreciation for the finer things in life and for an evening filled with laughter, joy, camaraderie, kindness?

The night was not just an amazing evening of cocktails, and fashion shows for women and children, with beautiful table settings and a delicious and creative menu, along with hundreds of raffles with the ability to win thousands of dollars in prizes, but also an evening devoted to the heartwarming ability of so many women to give, to share and to support their friends and neighbors in need in their community and elsewhere.

What brought over 450 women and 100 volunteers together for this amazing extravaganza is an organization called: Couture For A Cause.

Michal Weinstein of Woodmere and Esther Silber-Berg of Hewlett, originally conceived Couture For A Cause seven years ago; philanthropists in their own right and childhood friends. The organization was originally created to “raise awareness for important charities…with glamour and panache…Fundraising with a Flair,” said Michal Weinstein. Their motto, “Putting the fabulous into fundraising,” has been fundraising through fabulous events since 2007.

(L-R) Beverly Pomerantz, Rita Nussbaum, Mimi Thurm, Paula Weinstein Miriam Lifschutz

(L-R) Beverly Pomerantz, Rita Nussbaum, Mimi Thurm, Paula Weinstein Miriam Lifschutz

Michal Lara Weinstein, an advertising and marketing graduate of Stern College for Women and School of Visual Arts, is the creative director of mlwdesign, a full service web and graphic design firm that specializes in social media strategies, graphic design, and e-commerce. Despite her very busy schedule, juggling her successful business and family, Michal has put together creative fundraisers for various organizations, including Puah, Chai Lifeline, Ohel and, of course, Couture For A Cause.

Esther Silber-Berg is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, where she earned a degree in fashion merchandising and marketing. Esther inherited her fundraising ambitions from her father, and was influenced by her mother who ran an interior design firm before deciding to start on her own. As a young girl she also served on the board of various charities, which helped mold Esther into a business savvy woman with a love for giving back.

This year’s “Joy of Life” event benefited the Jewish Kidney Foundation, Project Renewal, and the Shirat Devorah Foundation.

At a chance meeting over a year ago, at a benefit for Project Renewal (an organization dedicated to assisting people suffering from various forms of kidney disease and to saving lives through kidney donation), Michal, who said, “I don’t believe in chances” met Sharon Langert from Lakewood, otherwise known as Fashion-isha, an event planner, and designer whose goal is to find the balance between the practical and the beautiful while upholding the high standard of fine and modest woman. Sharon, a mother of five, donated her kidney through Renewal to another Jewish mom who is thriving today.

The Shirat Devorah Foundation was started to assist a local mother of four children, struggling to get back on her feet after Hurricane Sandy destroyed her home. In the midst of the frustrating fights with insurance companies and FEMA for reimbursement for the natural disaster, Devorah Schochet was diagnosed with ALS.

(L-R) Breezy Beckerman, Sharon Langert, Michal Weinstein. Esther Silber-Berg, chairs of the event.

(L-R) Breezy Beckerman, Sharon Langert, Michal Weinstein. Esther Silber-Berg, chairs of the event.

The wonderful women working for CFAC decided that an event is not just a party, but also a means to demonstrate their achdus, unity, love and support of their neighbor, Devorah.

Michal and Esther, these two dynamic and powerhouse women, were joined for this year’s event by Sharon Langert and Breezy Schwartz, and 100 volunteers who worked tirelessly for six months to make the event happen. Breezy, known for her great shop on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, NY, became involved with CFAC as a way to “give back to a community that has been so wonderful and supportive.” The women who are involved “inspire and drive me… [T]heir creativity and passion for each cause is contagious.”

This year, Breezy ran the raffle department, working 24/7, and as head of raffles she was able through the generosity of the givers/donors to obtain donations for the raffles of over $100,000, e.g., watches, trips, jewelry, vacation and spa packages, wigs, just to name some of the various prizes. Just walking into Breezy’s, her shop, is a bit of heaven and while offering every kind of baking and kitchen supplies, gifts, housewares, etc. she also offers classes and recipes and ideas if you don’t know what to do with all these items.

Selling Snake Oil for Charity

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

If this doesn’t make an Apikores out of you, I don’t know what will. Whenever I see one of these Segula ads, I begin to wonder what is happening to my Judaism. No matter how many times I write about them, and no matter how many respected rabbis rail against them.

What are rabbis saying about Segulos? Here is what one of them said. The Mezhbuzher Rav, R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel Bick is a quoted by Dr. Yitzchak Levine in the Aishdas archives:

[Segulos ] are nothing more than bubbe maasos, eitzas yetzer hara that give people a license to spend money way beyond their means and then ask for a yeshuah. All these formulae ­ saying Shir Hashirim forty times, Tehillim HaChida, etc. ­ are methods used by the yetzer hara to take from us the little [spirituality] we have left.

And yet Segulos seem to be on the increase. I just received an ad for one from the Jewish Press.Why are they on the increase?

There are probably two reasons for that. One is that desperate people will take desperate measures. The other is that it must be a very effective fundraiser.

The first time I saw an ad like this was for Kupat Ha’Ir. This is a legitimate charity that helps the poor in Bnei Brak, Israel. These Charedim are mostly people that do not make a living because they have been indoctrinated to stay in Kollel for as long as possible and have had no training whatsoever for the job market.

Even with working wives they often do not make enough money to make ends meet. Mostly because of their large families. Kollel stipends are a joke. The solution rabbinic leaders have come up with is a charity fund called Kupat Ha’Ir. This type of fund has been duplicated in other cities in Israel under different names.

While one can dispute (which I strongly do…) the philosophy that discourages every male from working in favor of staying in Kollel – the fact is that these people are poor and need the money. This charity helps.

There is of course never enough money to go around and these charities themselves take desperate measures to make money.

Some “genius” a while back figured out that they can make money by taking advantage of desperate people. Noting the problems of the day, they have searched for ancient ‘ solutions’ in the form of Segulos. These are ritualistic acts involving donations to their cause. So if for example a young couple is having fertility issues, this organization has found some sort of ancient formula that they promise to carry out on your behalf - IF – you send them a donation. Usually a fixed amount of money. Usually having to do with supporting a Talmid Chacham.

This time it is Yad L’Achim – a Kiruv organization that, if I recall correctly – deals mostly with Russian immigrants. I obviously have no problem with reaching out to Russian immigrants. But I do have a problem with this way of funding it. The vulnerable people they are targeting are single women looking to get married.

In the Charedi world the prime age for a young woman to get married is about 18 to 22. (That is an educated guess. The range might be even narrower – with the top limit of 19 or 20.) Once past that age, these women begin having problems getting dates. To those of us who have been paying attention, this is one of the hottest topics being discussed in that world. All kinds of remedies have been proposed to solve this problem. Including a radical suggestion by some to consider plastic surgery to improve their appearance.

The point being that Yad L’Achim did not let the ‘Shiddach crisis’ go unnoticed. They noticed. And they are taking full advantage of it right now to raise money.

By donating to their cause they promise you that 10 Talmidei Chachamim (a Minyan) will go to the city of Meron to pray for you specifically – by name at the grave site of the sage, R’ Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron and the nearby grave-site of the sage, R’ Yonason Ben Uziel in something called Amuka. This is mostly a Sephardi custom and it is believed to help people in need if prayers are said at those grave-sites.

And for some reason which is unclear to me, Tu B’Shevat ( the new year for trees)– which is tomorrow on the Hebrew calendar is supposed to be an auspicious day for that.

And just to make sure they will raise as much money as possible – they have added other major problems of our day, Parnassa, Refuos, Shalom Bayis, children… all will be prayed for by name in Meron and at Amuka.

And you can also buy raffle tickets.

This is not my Judaism. Taking advantage of desperate people by getting them to part with their money is not what I believe God intended for us as a holy nation. Even when it is done for a good cause. It is just plain wrong.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

When Giving Charity Enables Bad Habits

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A few weeks ago, I received a telephone call from a well-meaning young woman. She was making cold calls from a list of members of the local community to ask for donations for a poor family. “The parents have no money. Both of them are working, but they can’t make ends meet. Right now, they and their five children are living in a very small rented apartment with no beds and debts that are impossible to pay,” she told me.

But while I felt very sorry for this family, I wondered if the answer was to simply raise money and hand them a check. (Before you read any further, don’t think I am suggesting that charity is a bad idea. Quite the opposite! I encourage everyone to try to give 20% of their income to charity. See this great example of kids giving charity.)

As I don’t know the particular circumstances of this individual family, I can’t say too much about their specific situation. However, many times I’ve noticed how families enter the cycle of debt because they have never been taught how to use their money properly. Even if both parents are working, they can drown in debts that may have started right from the beginning of their life together. Perhaps when they first got married, they were so sure of their new independence and life together that they didn’t stop to think how much money they were spending. Right at the beginning, they wanted a new dining room set, or they decided that as a young couple they should eat out at restaurants twice a week. They wanted to start out with an easy lifestyle. Perhaps they wanted to live higher than their parents who had nothing, or maybe they didn’t want to face a drop in the high standards that they enjoyed while living at home during their single years until they could make enough money to be able to maintain that kind of lifestyle themselves.

There could be so many reasons, but the underlying cause of the problems of many families is insufficient financial education and learned negative spending habits. If you grow up in a home where there is no concept of saving, and borrowing from one loan fund to pay off enough is considered as standard financial behavior, it’s very likely that you will end up inheriting the same bad fiscal habits unless you make an effort to learn differently.

The greatest gift that you can give to someone who needs your financial assistance because they are overwhelmed with debts is to encourage them to help themselves. While your check can pay off their current debt, it will only act as a Band-Aid, keeping them out of trouble until the next time. But if you can encourage them to look for a better-paid job, take a course on budgeting and money management, and to open a savings plan at the bank, you are giving them something that is a lot more valuable than any money.

Of course, charity doesn’t only mean giving to others. Sometimes, you need to be the recipient of your own tzedakah because the bottom line is that you are the only person who can really help yourself. So if you want to know more about planning for retirement, saving, and running your personal finances more effectively, start by reading self-help articles, attending budgeting courses, and adopting better monetary habits.

A Haredi Role Model

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

I often distinguish between moderate Haredim and extremist Haredim. But the truth is that there is probably a continuum between the two extremes that contains an entire spectrum of Haredi behavior. It is therefore difficult to find the cutoff line between the extreme and the moderate.

Without trying to write a discourse about what makes someone extreme or moderate – which would probably take a book like many of the subjects I discuss here – I think we can say that at least at the polar ends of the spectrum we can tell who is extreme and who is moderate. I happen to believe that the vast majority of Haredim fall into the moderate category.

One of the things I have been saying is that the wave of the future belongs to moderate Haredim who along with the less populous right wing Modern Orthodox community will (and perhaps already does) comprise the largest and most unified segment of Orthodox Jewry.

An example of how this type of Haredi Jew might be seen in the person of 36 year old Shraga Zatlzman of London, England. Mr. Zaltzman attended the very Haredi Gateshead Yeshiva (where Rav Matisyahu Salomon was once the Mashgiach) and then Yeshivas Mir in Yeurshalyim. Thus firmly establishing his Haredi orientation. But Mr. Zaltzman did something else. He attended Bar Ilan University and received a master’s degree in business.

In 2007 he was hired by a Haredi Tzedaka organization that helps people find jobs. The people he helps are not only Haredi Jews, but any Jew in search of employment. In fact in one instance he helped a Muslim eager to study in a modest environment.

80% of the people in an internship program they run are not even religious. The organization does not charge for its basic services and unlike other placement services that tend to operate from the employer’s perspective, this one operates from the job seeker’s perspective.

What is the environment like in this organization? From a JTA article by Miriam Shaviv:

[D]espite the religious distance between the organization and many of its beneficiaries, Zaltzman says there has never been friction with the people who walk through its doors.

This is a win/win for everyone. Haredim who have not been prepared for the workplace because of the rigorous Talmud study programs in Yeshiva (at the expense of any education or preparation at all for careers in the outside world) can now be brought up to speed. Many will get on the job training and otherwise learn how the marketplace of careers and jobs work.

It fosters an environment of tolerance and appreciation on both sides of the Hashkafic spectrum. It teaches those who have been sheltered from the outside world how to better deal with it. It teaches that there are other religious Jews in the world who are fine and decent people – God fearing just like them. And it teaches that non religious Jews are fine and decent people too as well as non Jews. Even Muslims.

It also teaches Modern Orthodox Jews, non religious Jews, and even non-Jews that the Haredi world consists mostly of fine and decent people too, unlike the miscreant extremists we constantly read about in the media. Mr. Zaltzman is a moderate Haredi who can be a role model for all of us.

This does not mean by any stretch that the poverty that is rampant and increasing in the Haredi world has been solved. That will only happen when there is a paradigm shift in education that will allow for more Parnassa preparation.

The organization which Mr. Zaltzman heads is a huge boost for Haredim. More than that it helps find jobs for anyone who needs one and applies. People of all religious backgrounds. But perhaps its biggest achievement is in fostering what I believe to be an unprecedented climate of tolerance and Achdus.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The Best Way to Use Your Money to Help Others

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

When you make a charitable donation, do you just mail a check and forget about it, or do you care how the organization uses your donation?

How can you best ensure your hard-earned funds are being properly used by a charitable organization? While it seems to make sense that organizations use their money wisely, how can the donor be sure the organization is putting donations to the best possible use?

Rabbi Uziel Admoni of Charity Safebox spoke with me on the Goldstein on Gelt show about some of the challenges donors face when they wish to help a specific organization.

First of all, it’s always a good idea to check the credentials of a charity before you give and make sure it is really genuine.  Is it important to you if the organization has a tax-deductible status?

However, even when the charitable cause is genuine, the money that you are donating may still not necessarily go to the right place due to downright inefficiency. Charities are run by idealistic people, but are they also business-minded?  Even though the directors may be honest and hardworking, they may still not be putting the donations to the best use. They may be doing great work – but with a little business or financial guidance they could be doing even better.

I was once involved with a donor who sponsored the purchase of several hundred library books for a school in Israel.  Months later, the donor arrived at the school expecting to see a fully-stocked library (or at least the empty shelves if the students checked out all the books).  They were disappointed to find cartons of books sitting in the corner.  They were told, “We bought the books with the money you gave, but had no money to build bookcases.”  Needless to say, the donor was shocked that they hadn’t approached him earlier, for he surely would have sponsored bookcases too!  After all, without them, his donation was useless.

For this reason, if you are thinking of making a significant donation to a particular organization, consider employing the services of a family office to oversee the donation. A family office carries out due diligence into the activities of non-profit organizations on behalf of the philanthropist. This work is extremely useful to both the donor and the recipient. The donor has peace of mind of knowing that the money given is being used for the intended cause in the best possible way, while the charity gets a chance to efficiently further its mission.

Indeed, this was the happy ending of the library story.  The donor hired a family office to oversee the library, from the construction of bookcases until the books reached the hands of the students.

An End-of-Year Call to Action

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

For many people, we’re approaching the end of the financial year. A good time to remind you of the voluntary work we (the bloggers behind this site) do and have done since September 2001.

We lost our child to an act of barbaric murder and incomprehensible hatred. Our response has been to create the Malki Foundation in our daughter’s name and to raise money and distribute it very efficiently in a way that allows us to do a lot good. You can get the whole picture at the website of the Malki Foundation. But if you’re click-resistant, here’s the brief version.

For Israeli families (Jews, Christians, Moslems, Druze, others) who have a special-needs child like the little boy above being helped by his brother, we provide substantial subsidies to enable five kinds of therapy: physical, occupational, speech, water and horse-riding… The parents decide how much therapy, which therapies and which therapist. We aim to empower them, and certainly not to patronize or direct them. They get enough of that from the establishment.

We also provide long-term free loans of home-care equipment like beds, wheelchairs, walkers and standers. The goal, again, is to make home-care a real option for such families.

In a country which has some fine institutional solutions, we believe that home care is and always will be the best option for a child with serious disabilities. For those who agree (not everyone), we want to help in our murdered daughter’s name. We are doing this today for many hundreds of families with a special-needs child.

We have a blind, severely-disabled eleven year old child [update: she’s now 17] at home (she attends a special school but sleeps at home) and came by our opinions the authentic way – by living the experience, by fighting the establishment and by learning how to work around the schlerosis in the system in order to do substantial good. And for those to whom this sort of statistic is important, nearly a third of the families we support month-in, month-out are Arab.

If you’re in a position to help us by making a 2006 fiscal-year donation [update: still very relevant in 2012], we can promise it will be honestly and effectively applied. And if you’re living in the United States, the UK or Israel, we can provide you with a tax-deduction for your contribution. Details here.

Visit This Ongoing War.

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