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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Local Poverty

Leadng into Yom Kippur, I thought it appropriate to reprint a Letter to the Editor in the Yated that ran approximately a month ago (thank you to readers who send me Yated letters and editorials or Orthonomic nature as I am not a subscriber).

During the March of the Envelopes, it can be easy to overlook our own neighbors amidst the glossy pamphlets. So, hopefully this letter will serve as an important reminder. I'm sure the volunteers in ever major community who give so much of their time can recount stories such as those below.



Dear Editor,

I would like to respond to your most moving appeal which appeared in your June 8 edition. First of all, I commend you for your most impressive efforts on behalf of this family in Eretz Yisroel. I would urge your readership to respond to your appeal in a most generous manner, as the aniyim of Eretz Yisroel have the same status in halacha as aniyei ircha. May Hakodosh Boruch Hu grant you hatzlacha in your efforts.

In your article, you noted that this level of poverty can only be found in Eretz Yisroel and not here in America. Unfortunately, that misconception is shared by many, making our work much more difficult. I would like to address and hopefully correct that misconception. Today, in most, if not all, frum communities in America, there are families facing similar situations. The unthinkable has now become reality. We all thought that we could outsource our labor intensive jobs to country overseas with no ramification to the Torah community. Well, sadly, there is an entire segment of our Torah community that relied upon those jobs. Today, numerous people are facing a work environment that they are ill prepared to enter. They have not been given the skills necessary to enter today's work environment in a capacity that would grant them the ability to command a living wage.

Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County would like to awaken your readership to alarming facts. There are numerous families that have their utilities shut off every year due to nonpayment. The average unpaid utility bill in Monsey is in the range of $2,600! We have found families in the winter that had no heat or electricity for many weeks. With regularity, families face eviction from their meager homes or apartments due to rent being unpaid for many months.

Sadly, these are not unheard of occurrences. In our community, grocers regularly sell on credit. When the unpaid bill reaches over a thousand dollars, the grocer typically faces a difficult and unpleasant decision. Does he cut off the credit of another Yid, or does he continue to operate his store at a loss? Sadly, in many, many cases, the answer has been to stop providing the family with their basic food needs.

We once received a phone call from a woman whose children had just left to yeshiva. Through her tears she explained that she gave the children popcorn for breakfast, and now that that was gone, she had nothing left in her home to feed her children when they come home later that day.

There are more than 300 families in the Rockland County [N.Y.] community that have no ability to provide for themselves and their children their basic food needs. As for these nitzrochim having family, some have no family at all, some are baalei teshuvah, and some have poverty running through many branches of their family. But the result is always the same. There is no family capable of helping them. And all this occurs right under our watchful eye, yet somehow we don't see it.

Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County faces these challenges more than 300 times per week. We leave boxes of food for Shabbos at their doorsteps, try to raise money to turn on their electricity, negotiate with grocers, plead with tuition committees, and help them fight eviction.

At this time in history, Hakodosh Boruch Hu has, in his infinite wisdom, chosen to grant many people in America with wealth unimaginable just twenty years ago. The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (151) states that wealth is something that cannot be assured to stay with a person or his family. One who, b'chasdei Hashem, is providing for his family, has the opportunity to be koneh his Olam Haboh by helping provide his neighbor with food for Shabbos, with electricity, and, most importantly, with a job. I would beg the reader to slowly re-read this paragraph so that he realizes what a zechus he can easily buy for himself today.

The purpose of this letter is not to urge your readership to send money to Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County. Rather, this writer would like to urge your readership to focus on families struggling in their own communities. Assume nothing. Ask your neighbor in confidence how his job is going. No, first ask him if he still has a job. Ask your neighbor if he makes enough money to cover the needs of his family on a weekly basis. Find out more about his financial situation. Does he have food? Electricity? Medical insurance? Is his rent or mortgage paid up to date? Work with him in confidence on getting him the re-education he needs to find a better job. The single biggest thing that you can do for him is to help him find a better job.

A friend gave me a sign to place on my desk which reads:
"Have I tried to find a fellow Yid a job today?"

Let's all remember that aniyei ircha have the halachic status of aniyei ircha.


David said...

I really, really like the fact that the author of the letter stresses helping people find work. That is a huge kiddush haShem. Work is tremendously important, both for salary, and for creating the feeling of sufficiency.

Good thoughts, well over the fast, and g'mar hatima tova

Anonymous said...

I am very involved in helping poor families. Sometimes one has to sit down with them and tell them to get their act together. Should the community support a family where the wife does not want to work outside the home and the husband won't take a position of lesser status than the one he had before? Should they begin to practice birth control as they can't support the kids they have? Should the parents demand that the kids pay the families mortgage when the father sits home waiting? There are no simple answers but I am frustrated that I think that the public dole creates in some the need for the dole. If there was no money or food being given would the family refuse employment?
Just because someone was used to living in luxury means that we have to take money away from the people that have always lived in poverty? Birth control?

SephardiLady said...

Anonymous-I hear you and experience some of the same frustrations. In fact, I believe that halacha is that to receive a help a person must be helping themselves. I find it extremely frustrating trying to help someone get their financial boat together when they have an excuse why everything you suggest is not possible. OTOH, there are a lot of people just in over their heads who are trying to make changes.

Like you said, there are no easy answers and you have been on the front lines.

Anonymous said...

There is no shortage of unemployment in America--why can't these people find jobs that allow them to eat? Seems a bit strange to me, unless they are disabled or something, but even then there are plenty of govt handouts. Perhaps they need to downsize their living standards.