Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I have been hesitant about writing this letter for some years now, however, the shame I was made to feel just recently has spurred me on to actually send it. My motive is to spare someone else the horrible experience of being humiliated in public as I was and to amplify the reasoning of how a mitzvah can be turned into an avairah!
I am not a child, I am a grown man with a wonderful wife and eight beautiful children of my own B”H, so you may question why this would upset me so. It upsets me because it is a common and accepted practice and I’m sure that I am not the only one who is/was victimized in this way.
First, let me clarify that I am not a charity case, that I work and am able to support my family but very few luxuries. We live on a budget because we don’t want to ask for or borrow money that we may not be able to give back and my children know that giving tzedakah is built into that mind frame. What HaKodosh Boruch Hu has seen fit to give me in the way of my parnassah (or lack thereof), He has blessed me with a wife and children who have beautiful middos and hakoras hatov for what we have. Never once have my children asked for things beyond our means and never once have they been anything but happy and grateful for what they have. Even though their friends have so much more in the way of material things, they respectfully understand when they are explained why those things are not available to them at this time. But I have veered of the point of topic, so allow me to return to why I am writing to you.
I always dread the beginning of Chodesh Elul, because it is a time when I must dodge collectors who are often rude and insistent that I can afford to give more than I offer, when we do not answer the phone because 90% of the time the calls are from organizations asking for donations, and also when I often have to reroute my way home or go to different minyanim in my effort to avoid the hordes of Israeli meshulachim who will follow me to my door, for tzedakah money in an amount far greater than I have on my person and gangs of young boys with raffle books collecting in order to receive prizes and not really for the act of collecting tzedakah.
Yesterday, against my better judgement and only because I needed an aliyah and say Kaddish for my father’s yahrzeit, I went to my regular minyan for Shacharis. As davening ended I rushed to make my exit before being approached by a number of collectors already assembled at the door, but I wasn’t fast enough. As I feared, one of them zeroed in on me and went into his well practiced speech of his daughter getting married in Yerushalayim, his elderly mother needing surgery, his house burning down and he and his wife and ten children having nowhere to live but on the street. I’d heard these stories countless times before. Just to get away, I reached into my pocket and drew out five dollars that were meant to buy bread, milk and lollypops for my twins whose birthday it was that day.
I offered him the five dollars, with a heavy heart because I knew that I would be short for my family’s needs, and what happened next completely blew my mind. The meshulach grabbed the five dollars yelling at the top of his lungs for all to hear, “Vos saren chutzpah un shanda tzu gebbin a zon klienneh nedavah!” Everyone turned around to look at me and their eyes were filled with judgement, even from those men I knew and counted as friends. I quickly ran out of the Beis Medrash and didn’t event realize the tears that were making a slow trek down my flaming cheeks.
When I came home, my wife saw that I was in distress and when I told her what happened, she said for me to write to you because many people read your column.
Mrs. Bluth, why have we become so evil and uncaring? Why do people assume that everyone can give greater sums than they can afford so they can impress others and then owe that money because they are unable to repay it? I am not a proud person who needs that kind of kovod, I would rather be honest and live within my means without borrowing so that I can impress my neighbors. B”H I have just enough to support my family, pay schar limmud without asking for and undeserved break in tuition, and a little extra for the tzedakahs I support.
Thank you for reading my letter, my wife was right, it does help a little knowing that perhaps you will print it and someone else will be spared the embarrassment I had to endure. Ah Gut Gebenched Yahr to you and to Klal Yisroel.
Thank you for sharing your experience, as ugly and as horrible as it was. All I can say, from the bottom of my heart is that I’m so very sorry for your ordeal, but not at all surprised. I, too, on some occasions have been shamed into giving more than I could easily afford to give at the time. It is a shame indeed that meshulachim stoop to this level of shaming and victimization, what they do is no longer an act of collecting tzedakah, it turns into coerced genaivah!
I am horrified that we teach our children to collect tzedakah on the premise that whoever raises the most money will get a better prize! I never allowed my children to participate in this, rather I taught them by example, to give where and when it was most needed and not to cover someone’s airfare to and from Israel, no matter how true their story is. My kids put money aside for maos chitim and for their own chosen tzedakahs.
The act of giving tzedakah should be a voluntary one and not something achieved through shaming, coercion or embarrassing others. then, indeed, the mitzvah becomes avairah.
May you and your household, along with all of Klal Yisroel be blessed with a year of health, happiness, simchosand aGeulah Shelaima!