Friday, April 28, 2006

A Must Read Article by Rabbi Horowitz

Below I am posting the text of an article that I received from Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, the menahel of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey. In the article below Rabbi Horowitz challenges the community about our priorities for tzedakah, and very bravely I might add.

In particular, Rabbi Horowitz takes a look at what I like to call a sexy charity that manages to attract donations for a grand celebration in Meron at the gravesight of Shimon Bar Yochai. While charitable funds for the "Chai Rotel" program are spent on providing a giant, air-conditioned tent for celebrants, a FREE Lag Ba'Omer seudah (30,000 meals served last year alone), FREE Shabbos meals, and newly constructed comfort station, as well as alcoholic beverages, our schools are treated as the "stepchild" of frum charities, undeserving of communal attention to the point where certain publications won't even dare approach the subject. Case in point, only the Jewish Press accepted paid ads on behalf of Day School Advocacy placed by Marvin Schick.

Parents and even grandparents are left to fend for themselves as community members fund moreglamorouss causes far from their own backyards while parents are left trying to find enough money after taxes and other necessary expenditures to pay massive tuitions that show no sign of decreasing in the near future. . And when parents finally break, they are denigrated to no end (check out some recent discussion at Orthomom that I will address in a future post that is purely denigrating).

The article is posted below. Please take the time to read it. We are lucky to have such a brave Rabbi in our midst.

Education Matters
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Thirteen Year-olds or Thirteen Gallons?
Recalibrating our Charity Priorities

(Sixth in a series of articles by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on the issue of communal support for Jewish Education)

Please allow me introduce you to Yossi. Yossi is almost thirteen years old, and is in seventh grade at the local yeshiva. He was barely keeping pace in the lower grades, but when he started gemorah things began to unravel rapidly. He struggled to keep pace with his classmates for a few difficult months, but he kept falling further and further behind.

Yossi's parents divorced a few years ago. His father remarried and moved out of the vicinity. When Yossi is at his mother's house, he often davens at home on Shabbos morning. He is simply embarrassed to sit by himself in shul. During the week, his father tries to make the time to learn with him on the phone, but since he remarried; . . . well, you know how it is.

Yossi would have a decent chance at success in school if his parents could find and pay for a tutor to learn with him twice a week. But his heroic single mother is marshalling all her energy just to juggle the demands of work, her children and managing her home. Yossi's rebbi knows of a kollel fellow who could tutor him and throw him a life preserver that could save him from becoming a statistic. The tutor would cost seventy-five dollars a week. Yossi's caring rebbi went to his principal and asked him to try and find the funds to pay for the tutor. The (equally caring)principal sighed, thinking of how he was going to make payroll in three short days. He would love to help, but, . . . well, you know how it is.

Rochel or Rotel; Who Gets Your Charity Dollars?

I often think of the Yossi's (and the Rochel's) in our school system that are drowning due to the lack of funding for Jewish Education overall and for the types of intervention that could help them make it before they slide into the morass of at-risk

I especially thought about Yossi and Rochel a few weeks ago as I read the Machberes column in The Jewish Press describing the preparation for the upcoming Lag Ba'omer and specifically the few lines describing the "hallowed custom" to supply "Chai Rotel" of wine and drinks to visitors in Meron.

For the past few years, large ads have been running in virtually all the Jewish newspapers during the weeks of sefirah encouraging prospective donors to contribute "Chai Rotel" of drinks to visitors to Meron on Lag Ba'omer, the yahrtzeit of Reb Shimon Bar Yochai. Legend has it that some unnamed tzadik promised material benefits (yeshu'os) to those who contribute 18 "rotels" (a rotel is a liquid measure; 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons) of wine or drink to provide visitors to Meron with refreshment during their stay. And if the past few years are any indication, I suspect that many such ads will be presented to the readers of Jewish newspapers in the weeks ahead.

Communal A.D.D.

I am personally uncomfortable with the notion of hawking "yeshuos" in advertisements for tzedakos, and I may address this issue in a future column.

But for now, let's discuss this "Chai Rotel" charity and how it stacks up with the needs of the Yossi's and Rochel's in our communities. Sadly, Yossi is not getting our attention as much as he should. There are no glitzy ads promising "yeshuos" to people who will throw him a lifeline. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that we suffer from communal A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder), where we are finding it difficult to pay attention to the needs of the children in our own communities.

Honestly, with our rebbeim and moros grossly underpaid and our yeshivos struggling to make payroll, is providing gallons of alcoholic drinks to adults who made a conscious decision to spend Lag Baomer in Meron a pressing communal need that begs to be addressed? Aren't there more appropriate venues for our charitable funds? Allow me ask another, more piercing question. Is it appropriate for someone who is receiving a tuition scholarship to go to Meron for Lag Baomer in the first

So, what will it be: Rochel's or Rotels? Thirteen-year-olds or thirteen gallons?

While you ponder these questions, the sad and confused eyes of the children who are not making it in our school system are looking to you for answers.

© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved


Anonymous said...

I was selected to have my picture taken for a brochure for my school. I was chosen to show the school uniform for girls. I got the picture back and I couldn't believe how bad I looked! My tie was crooked and the right side of my collar was sticking up! I wish the photographer has taken a moment to straighten my tie and fix my collar or at least tell me that my tie was crooked.

Orthonomics said...

Welcome anon. But, what exactly does your school uniform have to do with the discussion I'm hoping will develop here?

queeniesmom said...

Shavoah Tov! Excellent post as usual.

R' Horowitz makes some very excellent points. He's right schools just don't have the "cache" that many of these glitzy tziddakkahs have. Also schools don't offer any "special" yichut or speedy returns for your money.

there are no easy answers, especially when many of these organizations are worthy ones. Ex. like many yeshivot my chidren's school has a ....contest to raise money for a very worthy tziddakah, I want my children to understand the importance of giving tziddakkah; also seeing me do it has more meaning than lipservice but how many times can i keep "paying out". This is a real dilemma for us like everyone else we're reaching the breaking point. We just got next years bill for the 3 kids, $31,000. I don't know how we'll keep doing this, but there isn't much choice is there?

Hopefully better minds will come up with a solution before we reach the desparation point.

Orthonomics said...

Rabbi Horowitz definitely got a lucky break with this particular event, because it is really hard to criticize the many, many wonderful charities.

How can anyone deny the importance of helping poor Jews buy food for everyday or for Shabbat and Yom Tov? And this year I received a soliciation for an organization that helps poor people buy things like a refrigerator? These needs make our needs look petty. But, still, we are at the breaking point.

So, while helping the poor buy things that I would not cut off my own list of needs (a working refrigerator, food), is and should be a high prioritiy, providing alcohol most clearly should not be.

Sorry to hear about your tuition bill! That is an entire after tax income. I think we have reached the point where more than 2 incomes are needed to support a larger frum family. This is clearly a problem.

almost_frei said...

Great post ... I think Rabbi Horowitz's point is a great one... as an aside. I remember reading that Rabbi Horowitz's yehiva student raised a ton of money for children schools of evacuees form Gaza. I think he agrees that it is important to teach kids about giving tzdakah... his point is that we are giving to silly things.

Charlie Hall said...

Doesn't the halachah have something to say about priorities for tzedakah? Ones own community first, for example? Or giving someone a job being preferable to a handout?

Orthonomics said...

Of course there are priorities in tzedakah. But, like many things in life, marketing is the impetus behind giving and somehow education and other important community programs are not as glamorous.

kasamba said...

I read the article in the JP and I was thrilled that someone actually addressed this troubling issue.
Here, we have Rebbes who waltz into London with outstreched hands and leave with MILLIONS of dollars!

I'm not saying that their mosdos are not deserving, but there are at least 40 families in Golders Green alone who do not have food to put on their tables.

Sephardilady, you hit the nail on the head when you said that 'marketing is the impetus behind giving'.

Orthonomics said...

MILLIONS? It is almost like we should tax collectors from outside the community to help those in the community who are suffering too.

I'm not sure how we market our own communities, but we need to. Maybe that will be a future topic.

Anonymous said...

In Baltimore, they do tax collectors. they have something called Agudah scrip. the local residents buy, say, $100 of scrip. each dollar that they then give to a m'shulach has to be redeemed. the mechulach takes about %80 and a local school (that the giver can specify) takes the remainder.

Reb Yudel said...

You say that folks on scholarship should not be traveling to Israel for Lag b'Omer -- should they be traveling to Israel for a grandson's bris? Should they be taking a week vacation, or should they be working second and third jobs?

Implicit in the scholarship application I fill out is that some sort of expenses -- vacations, cars -- are a disqualifier for scholarship. But what are they? Am I "bad" for taking a week's vacation at a friend's bungalow? Am I jeopoardizing my scholarship by so doing?

Orthonomics said...

Anon-I like the idea of scrip that benefits the community.

Reb Yudel-I didn't write the article, Rabbi Horowitz did. I would be curious what he would say to those questions.

I personally think that a husband who is employed full time should not be "required" to break his back to pay tuition by taking extra jobs during his vacation. Vacation time is important for family bonding and keeping in touch with your children and who they are and who they are becoming. Parents spending more time with their children, not less.

As for travelling around for every simcha, I would say there are certain smachot that one should not miss and certain smachot that are more negotiable. I'd rather hear opinions from the peanut gallery before forming my own solid opinion.

I think it is fair for schools to ask those on scholarship to take modest vacations. I'm sure a trip to your friend's bungalow qualifies as such.