Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5766 - January 11, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Innovations in Chessed

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

This time we are not presenting the activities of tzedokoh organizations. This time we have chosen to focus on a few unique initiatives that are being directed within local tzedokoh organizations. The common denominator of all these enterprises is that they are new initiatives that are a little different from what we have come to expect. We are always looking for chiddushim in Torah; here are some new approaches in chessed.

Much more than what is written here—is left unwritten: We are not attempting to encompass the operations of the organizations that are mentioned, but only to describe a few new initiatives. In Beit Shemesh someone lays down trays of food and disappears. What do we make of the special departments of the tzedokoh organizations in Brachfeld? While in Petach Tikva the tzedokoh organization takes an unconventional administrative and advertising of approach.


Tzedokoh Departments

"Hello, you have reached the Materna department." (Materna is a brand of baby formula.) Not in those words—but in that spirit—the phone lines of the tzedokoh organization Keren Hachesed in Brachfeld, Modi'in Illit work. What is unique about it is not only the division of its operations into branches, but the central idea that lies behind it.

"To make the enterprise efficient," they say, "we have created a system which identifies the various needs and distinguishes between them." As an example of the "departmental" operations of the organization, we will concentrate on two departments. The food department for babies ("Materna department") and the department for dental care.

"Our main object is not to aid the poor, but rather to rescue the family before it reaches poverty level." This approach entails investing a smaller amount to prevent the damage, rather than waiting until the damage becomes substantial and you have to put in more than double the amount.

The story which triggered the establishment of the Materna department, though it did not occur in Brachfeld but rather in Jerusalem, had direct ramifications on the running of the organization: When a mother and baby arrived at the Tipat Chalav center, they discovered that the baby was suffering from malnutrition.

The mother was given some advice on nutrition for her baby, and then she went home. A short time later, she returned for a follow-up visit. An examination revealed that there was no improvement in the baby's condition. Rather than sending the infant for a series of comprehensive examinations, the mother was asked a few pointed questions. It turned out that the baby was not being given baby food, but rather all kinds of nonnutritive substitutes.

The doctor had a talk with the mother and told her in no uncertain terms that she would have to come back again, and if there was no drastic change in the baby's condition, a social worker would be sent to her home to examine whether the baby needed to be taken somewhere else.

When a chesed organization heard of this, they immediately grasped that this was a case of potential immense damage which could be avoided with a relatively small amount of money. There was no time to be lost. There was no leaving that baby to develop malnourished and then trying to undo the damage afterwards.

They examined the situation in depth and discovered that even without the doctor brandishing the social worker as a threat, the malnutrition situation was definitely a reality! It was not an isolated incident, but there were dozens of families who were having difficulties finding money for this expense.

That is how the Materna department came into being. It tries to meet the developmental needs of babies and young children so that young problems do not develop into older crises.

The other department that we referred to earlier, is that of dental care. This department, too, was founded with that goal of preventing damage. More than once, when the tzedokoh organization took a family under their wing, they discovered that it needed thousands of shekels — if not tens of thousands — for dental treatment. When the tzedokoh organization arrived on the scene after the family's teeth had decayed, it needed to shell out vast sums for rehabilitation.

What could be simpler than providing the treatment right at the beginning, before the serious deterioration? That same cavity which now cost 120 shekels might later, choliloh, cost ten times that amount in root canal treatment. This logical argument cannot always convince a person who does not even have 120 shekels. But when in the future he desperately needs 1,200 shekels, who would be able to help him?

The dental care department was opened precisely for that need.

This is what lies behind the idea of having departments. It is possible to figure the requirements of needy families as one large unit: One family needs two thousand shekels; Another needs ten thousand shekels. But with the departmental approach, the various expenditures can be separated and can be treated differently. One can focus on those damages which cause even greater damages to sprout— to halt the erosion. When the support is organized around the needs, the people in charge are more likely to discover better ways of fulfilling the needs on which they are focusing.

These activities were carried out, naturally, alongside the standard activities for aiding and extricating families who had already reached crisis level. However, the greatest satisfaction actually came from preventing a family from reaching that stage.

Beit Shemesh—Who Lays down Trays of Food and then Disappears?

One clear day of the days of rachamim (Elul), I landed up in the neighborhood of Beit Shemesh Beis—Zono'ach as the veteran residents dub it. The long street in the neighborhood is called Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, or Ribal for short. This street joins up through a loop with another long street by the name of Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakkai, or Ribaz for short.

Suddenly I caught sight of a bunch of cute children running excitedly along the street with packets of milk. Not simple bags of milk, but real carton packets! The children came bursting out of a nearby building which did not look anything like a dairy. How did milk get there? And to where were the children running?

Since I had seen children running in Elul with milk, I was reminded of a story about Rebbe Shmuel Monakeis zt"l. Rebbe Shmuel traveled to a certain townlet in the month of Elul. On the way he took up lodging at the inn of an old milkman. In the middle of the night the innkeeper woke him up to say selichos. Rebbe Shmuel had planned to recite selichos in the morning. And he asked the innkeeper, with assumed naivete: "Tell me, please, what are selichos?"

The innkeeper—whose naivete was not assumed—was appalled: "What, you don't know? In selichos we ask for good grass for the cows to graze on and that the cows should be blessed with plenty of milk!"

Rebbe Shmuel responded: "Shame on you . . . even at your age you wake up in the middle of the night to ask for milk?"

Rebbe Shmuel wanted to call attention to the inner content of the selichos: It is a request for forgiveness, not for milk.

But this wonderful story certainly did not explain the cartons of milk that were rushed through the street in front of my eyes.

One of the children's fathers volunteered an explanation. Some time ago someone in the area decided to fulfill the mitzvah of giving charity anonymously.

One clear day, he began laying packages of food at people's doorways, thereby providing aid to the families. Later on, the organizer began to fear that people would discover who the benefactor was. It is not easy, after all, to go around from house to house and not face exposure. And if that were to happen, he would lose that level of matan beseiser!

So he changed his method. Rather than him going to households, it was better that the households came to him. Once in a while, he arrives at a site he set up, put down a large container of food and he then disappears. It might be milk, eggs or some other basic commodity. Above the container he places a sign `Hefker,' to let everyone know that they can take it.

And that is how, without an office, telephone, vehicle—or even an address—he founded an original chessed organization.

I went to speak with one of the families in the area in order to hear more about this unconventional enterprise. They said that it was not some mysterious organization but rather a private initiative of a few people, a different one each time. Someone gets together a bunch of food and puts it out for distribution.

Who is the initiator? Who sets it going? Does someone all of a sudden decide to lay down a tray of food and disappear, then another person, and then yet another?

Instead of answers we got the smiles of all those children running past with their packages of milk. We saw for the first time the "teeth whiteners" (smiles) together with the "milk drinkers."

We did not get a chance to check the expiration date on the milk given out, but a family on the site claimed that the products which were being distributed for free are usually those in which the shelf life was about to run out.

"The children will drink a lot of chocolate milk for a day or two, and whatever is left will just have to be thrown away," they say. Does someone tell the food companies to dispose of their about-to-spoil surpluses this way? Who transports the food here? It's not clear.

One of the neighbors mentions the time there was a distribution of burnt cookies. Someone or other brought a large pile of broken or burnt cookies. You had to sort out the packages in order to get to the good cookies, "but that's no problem for someone who has no money for any cookies," a neighbor quips.

I heard that they recently gave out eggs on the site—which is an expensive commodity by all standards. I asked one of the neighbors and he responded with great astonishment, "Eggs? Eggs? I always see what is given out, but I never saw eggs before!"

Petach Tikva—There Are No Empty Fridges Here

We discovered a most original and interesting approach to the subject of tzedokoh in the kupat tzedokoh of the city of Petach Tikva. This tzedokoh fund takes a quiet and tranquil line in its approach to raising money for the community.

The ads and flyers are never printed in red. And the headlines never catch your eye. People "know" that if you want to convince a person to give money you have to shock him, or at least shake him up from his daily routine. In this fund, they choose to behave differently. The appeal is made in a highly respectable, and especially cordial and positive manner. Their ads noticeably lack those vacant and chilling pictures.

"Doesn't Petach Tikva have any empty fridges?" I ask the founders of the fund and they respond with an energetic, "No, definitely not."

But then we get to the qualification:

"Perhaps in practice there are homes which have an empty fridge, but that is not what we focus on when we raise money.

"That is not the issue. Are there any poor people in Petach Tikva? Oh, for sure there are! If there were no poor people, there would be no need for a charity fund. It is just that, practically speaking, we are not sure that a fridge always reflects a person's economic situation. A fridge can be packed to the brim—but everything is bought from gemach money . . . "

Why not write that, though?

We are not saying that there is anything wrong with that other style of fundraising, though there are those who claim that shock tactics have lost their effectiveness. In any case, we do not want to focus on other people's modes of operation. Every organization makes its decisions based on its own appraisal of the situation, taking into account the areas of operation and such like.

We have chosen a quiet approach, though it is nevertheless sharp and clear. In the final analysis, every tzedokoh organization searches for its own region of operation, a kind of private niche, and that's the corner we found for ourselves.

Are you perhaps simply making a mistake?

In order to fully understand this question, we need to get a little background on the city of Petach Tikva. We are talking about a mixed city which has a general, non- religious population living alongside the chareidi one. You can even find in Petach Tikva stable buildings which have only one or two chareidi residents, which is rare in Israel.

The city encompasses a very large area, yet you could say that they live together as a `community'—perhaps community is not the right word, but the people do know each other. It is only natural that when people live in a mixed region, the chareidim are more connected to each other, since in such a case there is more to bring them together than to divide them.

This special atmosphere makes it unnecessary to shock a person in order to make him help his neighbor. He feels close enough to do it without being traumatized. Aside from that, the rabbis who receive the money are not just an address for delivering tzedokoh, but every one of them lives and "breathes" the community on a daily basis, and is rooted inside it. Knowing this from up close causes every resident to feel that the fund acts as his private emissary.

The style of life in Petach Tikva makes it hard for people to know what other people's economic status is. The residences are located at some distance from each other, which enables people to hide their real situation, and people do indeed conceal it from others. When a person lives in a place where he cannot in any case conceal his state, he makes less effort to do so. But were that person to live in a place where it were possible for him to hide his situation he would do so. That is another reason why Petach Tikva is more suited to a more tranquil, respectable and quiet approach.

The advantage we have of being a small community is expressed in other areas too. One of the residents was having a family simcha and he decided to donate food for Shabbos from the catering hall. A list was made up of families in need and we set out to distribute it on Friday at two in the afternoon. We laid these elegant packages beside the doors and I cannot begin to describe the excited telephone calls we received following the deliveries.

Why are we telling this story? Because we have never advertised that people can hold a seudas aniyim (meal for the needy) through us like that one. But as a member of the community, the baal hasimcha sensed that we were the right address. Similarly, residents who are able to give aid in other areas apply to us.


By the way, wouldn't it be better to bring the delivery into the house than to leave it outside for the neighbors to see?

Ah, here we go back again to the style of living in Petach Tikva. In order to get into the buildings we had to ring the neighbors' intercoms, so they would open the main gate for us. Then we put down the food. Before we left we phoned the family from the intercom and asked them to take the packages inside. Even if a neighbor chanced to pass by, he would have no idea what was going on. He might think it was a fancy order from some restaurant.

Question: Reverting to the bottom line, are you able to raise sufficient funds using your methods, more or less?

That is a very difficult question. It is hard to check it out in a real way. After every fundraising campaign, we contemplate matters and examine whether or not we were successful. But it is really hard to know clearly. What we definitely do know is that the people in Petach Tikva do feel more connected to each other because of this.

We try not to write shock stories though sometimes it is hard to "hold back." But it is just because people do live here harmoniously, we cannot bring ourselves to advertise that way because people would very quickly figure out who we were referring to. We are talking about someone from Petach Tikva, our own neighbor! We do not have that privilege. Our neighbor wants his situation kept quiet. We too want to hide it. And also the donors prefer not to be exposed. They just hand in their donation and that's enough for them.

Don't the residents of the city complain that you "are not working as you should be?"

They do not complain, but some people do ask why we chose the quiet approach. At any rate, the responses that we received in favor of it greatly surpassed those that opposed it.

And now we'll let you into a little secret. We have more than once given a personal donation to those organizations which use shock tactics—that is surely proof that this method is working . . . but we focus on a different community, on a more inward circle. And the way we apply is how one would apply to an inward circle. In the final analysis, we make use of a niche that others do not possess.

Since this concerns a community, we try to keep tabs on people who once turned to us for help. In essence, anyone who once was in need of aid, can be helped in the future as well. Obviously, we will check his situation all over again each time. We will enquire, examine, but essentially he is on our list. We might give him more aid, or less, or we might not be able to help at all. But in our community we are never allowed just to ignore it. Our rule is: all Petach Tikvites help all Petach Tikvites.

How "without telling" do you manage to "tell" about the difficult cases that are solved through your intervention?

Chavra chavra is lei — word of mouth. A person who was given help does not have to tell his friends that he got help. He could just say, "I heard that someone got such and such." The reality is that people are definitely aware of our activities.


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