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September 16, 2014 / 21 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘charity’

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.

Creative Thieves

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The Palestinians are creative, I’ll give you that. Take a look at what was fired at Israel yesterday. Nothing really unusual – another kassem rocket…oh wait…

Those are charity boxes – commonly attached to poles in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and other cities. The Palestinians actually stole a street pole (charity boxes included) to fire at Israel. They are a creative bunch. My guess is that charity within did its job and protected Israel’s residents from harm.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Three Ways That Your Pension May be Spent Before It Enters Your Bank Account

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

When saving for retirement, you may feel secure because you’re putting aside earnings into a pension plan. However, what you may not realize is that some of that money is going to be spent even before it reaches your bank account.

There are 3 ways in which your pension can disappear:

1. Taxes. Having a work-related pension is important because no matter how many years you worked, government social security programs won’t meet all of your post-retirement needs. As helpful as your pension is, be aware that some type of pension plans are taxed as ordinary income when you start taking withdrawals.

2. Debt.  If you still have debts (mortgage, credit cards, or other loans) when you retire, they will need to be paid before your discretionary expenses.  If you are having a hard time making ends meet before you retire, imagine how much more difficult it will be post-retirement on a smaller paycheck.

3.  Charity.  Retirement shouldn’t spell an end to your charitable donations.  If you are careful to give 10, 15, or 20 percent of your income to charity during the years before your retirement, why should you stop post-retirement? To paraphrase the beggar from Fiddler on the Roof, “Just because you’ve retired, I have to suffer?” Depending on your pension and other income-producing investments, you may not be able to make as generous donations as you once did, but certainly charity shouldn’t stop when you retire.

Remember that numbers can be deceiving – after taxes, paying off debt, and giving charity, the amount of your pension may not match the amount deposited in your bank account.  While this sounds drastic, adequate planning can help make up the shortfall.

So before your retirement income is spent before you actually retire review the figures so that you can be prepared. To make this easier, use these easy-to-use calculators to work out how much you are spending on existing loans, mortgages, and more.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/goldstein-on-gelt/three-ways-that-your-pension-may-be-spent-before-it-enters-your-bank-account/2012/11/02/

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