On my fight back from Israel to Chicago I was surprised to see a feature article in the international edition of the New York Times. It was entitled The Beggars of Lakewood. I found it to be a sympathetic portrait of the community’s generosity towards what we call ‘Meshulachim’. That is the Hebrew word for ‘sent ones’. Those who are ‘sent’ by various charitable institutions as their agents to raise funds.
But just as many, if not more, come for themselves. There are the poor and the sick …or those that have sick relatives requiring massive amounts of money for medical procedures not always covered by Israel’s national health care system. They need funds just to survive and support their families.
In the vast majority of cases, they are truly people in need. The fraudulent ones have been weeded out by a process know as an Ishur (permit). It is usually issued by a respected organization (Agudah does this in Chicago) after verifying that their stories are true to be. (That was not always the case in the past.)
Lakewood has an organization that does the same thing. What was nice to see is how altruistic the community of Lakewood is. Despite their lower incomes they tend to be more generous in their charitable contributions. They observe better than most of us the Mitzvah of Maaser Kesafim that requires us to give 10% of our income to charity. The bottom line for me about that article is that the community of Lakewood came out looking very good. At least that’s the way I read it.
But it seems not everyone had my take. Matzav – republishing an article from Arutz Sheva – thought it was terrible.
What they saw was an article about the Meshulachim – most of whom come from Israel – that made them look bad. It was stereotypical description of Jews as money-grubbing beggars.
I can’t say that the description of Elimelech Ehrlich, the Meshulach described at the beginning of the article is inaccurate. I have seen versions of this fellow many times in Chicago. And the truth is it bothers me. Yes, giving them charity is legitimate. They do need to feed their families.
But I have to ask, why so many Meshulachim come from Israel? Is it because there are no jobs? Is it the case that every Meshulach that comes from Israel has tried to find work and just hasn’t been able to? I’m sure that is true in some cases.
As I said, it is also true that many of them collect for legitimate institutions that are concerned with feeding the indigent, or forYeshivos and Kollelim. In some cases Meshulcahim are collecting for medical reasons.
I always ask myself why the vast majority of Meshulachim from Israel are Chasidic or Charedi? There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are Meshulachim. But I can’t help but think that a lot of it comes from the fact that Charedim in Israel do not have the education or training for good jobs.
This does not of course mean that we shouldn’t help them. But I think it does mean that as the population of Charedim and Chasidim in Israel increases, the number of Meshulchim will too. It is not unusual to find 5 or more Meshulachim coming into Shul every morning with their Ishur (green cards) asking for charity.
Wouldn’t the greatest charitable act to these people be to change the way they are educated? If there are no secular studies in elementary or high school curricula in Israel, then the only jobs they can get are menial. And even those are limited. There are probably a lot more people applying for even a menial job that there are jobs – by a lot! It may not eliminate poverty to give them better educations. But I have to believe it would reduce their numbers considerably.