Doing tzedaka better

Our community is an incredibly benevolent one. Here, I mean the Melbourne community in general, across all groups. When there is someone in need, there is a charity fund, numerous ones, various Gemilus Chasodim organisations, formal and informal, that help with loans, food after illness or birth—the list goes on. We have every reason to be proud to not only have created a climate where Yidden are so caring and generous. These acts also form a cogent living example for our children so that they are exposed to an attitude of giving, caring and helping.

Are we doing enough? I don’t mean to ask whether individuals or organisations are coping with the requirements of those who are in need. I am particularly referring to the qualitative aspects of giving Tzedaka as opposed to the already established and measurable quantitative metric. For example, consider a family of N souls whose bread-winner no longer wins bread. That person and their family are supplemented generously with food, clothes, school fees and all manner of assistance. Baruch Hashem that their needs are being met. What of the bread-winner and his responsibilities?

It must be easy to become despondent and fall into an habitual trap where the mind is convinced that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Meandering from day-to-day, week to week, year to year, I could well expect that a person loses focus and hope and despairs of ever getting to a point where either they don’t have to stand with their hand outstretched or even have to do so on less regular occasions. It is very expensive to live a particular life style and afford to put children through private schools. It is not getting easier.

Why is this thought invading my head space? I recall that we once wanted to ask whether a group, who were out of work, and Baruch Hashem well supported by various funds, would consider attending daily minyanim in Shules that were challenged to find a minyan for daily Shachris, or even Mincha/Ma’ariv in the winter months. In return, the Shules would donate funds towards the Charities that were supporting these individuals. I thought at the time that this was a no brainer: a win-win situation. Perhaps the new networking opportunities would even help in gaining employment, even part-time employment. Alas, I was wrong.

Administrators of these funds informed me that

“you can’t rely on them, they are unreliable lazy good for nothings”

“they wouldn’t get up on time anyway”

“our management thinks that this is a wrong approach”

I have to say that I was shocked. God forbid, if I was in a situation where I had to come for weekly help and couldn’t work. If I was, I’d offer my services even on a volunteer basis in any which way I could. What brings people to a point where they simply lose their way?

What are we missing? I think we are missing professional staff. I believe that we need to have a qualified professional social worker associate full-time with those in need and their families. That person would oversee the complete and more complex issues surrounding families and individuals and work with cognate professional to help as appropriate. Surely, this itself is a higher level of Tzedaka that could be performed and would help make those in need even partially better equipped to sustain their families. Anything has to be better than turning into a בטלן and יושבי קרנות?

Should we become more intelligent in the manner in which we appropriate certain acts of חסד? Is there a halachic imperative on the receiver to take part in acts designed to help them get back on their feet? Is it a two-way street from a Halachic perspective?

I ask these questions, not חס ושלום, to diminish the importance of what is being done. Rather, I wonder if we can do things a little better?

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

10 thoughts on “Doing tzedaka better”

  1. I have had a lot of thoughts recently about tzedaka albeit from a slightly different angle. Speaking to young families in our community, it seems that we are seeing the beginnings of ‘working poor’, i.e. both husband and wife working to maximum capacity but unable to generate enough income to fully pay their way in this expensive frum lifestyle of ours.

    I wonder if for some,this stems from our Jewish, post-Holocaust (understandable) infatuation with our children being ‘professionals’ and we live in a time where professionals have a decreasing value in their earning power.

    Perhaps we need to find ways to encourage more young people to build businesses that employ people, provide services/products and generate profits. I’m not sure that our community today sufficiently values genuine wealth creation that will build future generations of employers and supporters of various tzdakot.

    Like I said, not exactly related to your point, but I would be interested to read what others may think about this.

    Merv Adler

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    1. Thanks for your comments Merv. In addition, there is the issue of a trade. Tradespeople do quite well, but it’s also not seen as a Jewish profession. That being said, there are many receivers of Tzedaka who do have either a trade or a profession and my point was that in not associating professional social workers to the operations of a Tzedaka fund, we are perhaps consigning to the abyss of taking. Too often we judge a Tzedaka fund on the basis of “how much of my money goes directly to the needy”. Is that the only metric? What about, “how many people who were on Tzedaka have we managed to re-train or re-structure so that they are less reliant on Tzedaka?”

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  2. this whole topic is something i think about all the time. its on my mind constantly and im consumed with trying to figure out a solution. id like to just make a few points and see what people think

    1. the cost of frum living ie house prices close a shule, grocery prices both kosher and non-kosher, education etc rises all the time while wages don’t. its simple math. a household with 2 very good incomes cant make ends meet and so have to rely on help ie fee subsidy or help from family to just pay the bills. there is usually no extra money/time to invest in starting a business given the time it takes to be profitable etc. many young people are living month to month as it is

    2. i have always felt that it may be an idea for communities to take a page from the sanitarium food business book. the business is owned by the 7th day adventist org. its a profit making business that gives work to anyone in their community that needs, allows them to move up the ranks, pays well enough for them to live and the profit goes back into the org to support its activities. dont forget a business like sanitarium needs managers, factory workers, drivers, accountants, lawyers etc it diverse enough to need many skills so can offer a wide range of employment …….now i know sanitarium has a long history etc but my point is there may be businesses out there for sale or that can be started in the same framework as this for the direct benefit of a community. if money is given for a project like this and its successful the initial money invested can last a long time in supporting those in need and indeed change people from in need to in demand! thats what i call tzedokah!

    3. i know isaac mentoned – “if I was in a situation where I had to come for weekly help and couldn’t work. If I was, I’d offer my services even on a volunteer basis in any which way I could. What brings people to a point where they simply lose their way?” – all i can say is bh you are not in that situation and i hope you never will. suffice to say that b/c you have not been there and have not had to overcome this challenge is the reason you don’t know why people lose their way. its gut wrenching and heart breaking and soul destroying to have to rely on someone else to help feed and house your family. looking in the mirror is an effort. its a slippery slope that many fall down. it gives new meaning to the words ‘yegiah capecha’ (spelling??) see tehillim kapital 128. infact its all a person in this situation wishes for to be able to eat from the work of his own hands

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    1. Shlomo,

      On point 3, you are of course correct. My suggestion of the social worker was to try and cause meaningful assistance and intervention to help stop people sliding down that abyss.

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  3. The Torah has what to say about this.No?
    Somewhere in Kiddushin(give us the reference Dovid Segal if you are watching)it lists things a parent must do for his child.One is to teach him a trade(to not do so is teaching him to steal).When this is not done an entrenched cycle of welfare dependence is started & it is oh so common among the ultra frum.All the ‘good guys’ I have read about had a trade,worked enough to live modestly,gave charity from their modest wages & spent all their spare time in Torah study & deeds.I think religious institutions that do not put a firm emphasis on gaining financial independence are misrepresenting Hashems Torah.You will find references all over the place eg Pirke Avot on the merits of working & what not working leads to.The question I believe is how to break the cycle & that means educating the children to go in the right path(not the path of an idle parent).What to do about the idle parent? I would suggest tough love.First the carrot then the stick.

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  4. it would be a good idea to have social workers in a case management capacity to assist these families, however who would employ them?

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    1. Yes, but alas, the immigrants are getting older and it’s harder to find those who would attend Minyanim. That being said, they definitely were more active in doing so, and some still are, than many who seem to have descended into a terrible path with no seeming return. It is the latter that I think we need to address as the qualitative aspect of Tzedaka. Yes, I had seen that poster. It’s a good one.

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