Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Kislev 5763 - November 13, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Conversation With the Heads of Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Tzedokoh

by C. Abramovitz

Ten years ago HaRav Ezriel Auerbach came to Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv to discuss ways of dealing with the commercialization of tzedokoh, which had been overrun by inshi delo ma'ali and profiteering. After hammering out several resolutions they founded Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Tzedokoh Be'eretz Hakodesh, which soon restored Am Yisroel's faith in tzedokoh organizations. Recently Yated Ne'eman sat down to speak with some of the Vaad's leading rabbonim--Rav Chaim Yosef Gefner, Rav Mordechai Deutsch and Rav Yehoshua Becker--who opened their hearts and reflected on a decade of dedicated work for the sake of Klal Yisroel.

Yated Ne'eman: Due to the volume of requests for assistance during the course of your work you probably do not have the leisure to display emotional responses. Yet you deal with extremely sensitive situations that pull at the heartstrings. At what point is the askan, compelled to act pragmatically and to maintain his composure, turn into a feeling person whose heart bleeds and whose eyes overflow with tears?

Rav Gefner: Sadly, because of the number of cases and their complexity, the routine does take a toll. But I do remember one case involving a distinguished talmid chochom who was boki in all of the Torah's treasures. Due to various circumstances he was forced to stop giving his shiur at a yeshiva and by the time he was back on track, he had accrued tremendous debts. All of a sudden he felt strangled. Even loan options were closed to him.

He came to me one rainy night. His tears began to flow more freely as his story unfolded. During the course of our conversation with painful honesty he said, "The problem is that because of my circumstances, I won't be able to learn any more." Then he burst into tears saying, "I won't be able to learn, I won't be able to learn." When his sobbing grew stronger I could no longer contain myself as well. Yehi rotzon milefonecho shomei'a kol bechiyos . . .

I sat with him for an entire hour and we prayed through our tears. Later we began to seek a solution. Phone calls, planning. We guided him in a course of action that I prefer not to relate in detail. We remained at his side for a period of time. Then one evening the phone rang and it was the same man on the line. "You put me back on my feet. I can start learning again." Then the wellspring of tears again burst open.

A while later I received another call from this talmid chochom. "I want to sign a standing bank order ('horaat keva') [for the Vaad]," he said, and this time tears of joy flowed.

Rav Deutsch: We handled one case of a man who was known to have extensive assets. He had lost his fortune and was mired in debt. You wouldn't have known it based on appearances. Even his family was unaware. During that same period two young avreichim came with a request. They wanted to donate money to a worthy tzedokoh. During the course of a brief conversation it turned out they were the sons of guess-who. "We have a very worthy tzedokoh for you," we told them. "We need money for a rich man who lost his fortune," and they gave generously toward the cause. When they left I burst out in tears.

Y.N.: How was the Vaad founded?

Am Yisroel are rachamonim, baishonim and gomlei chassodim. There has always been a desire to give and dedicated askonim handled crisis situations.

One time there was an orphaned chosson at our yeshiva. As his friends we decided to do something to help him. We prepared envelopes and written appeals and a respectable amount of money came flowing in, even more than necessary. We saved the remaining funds for his younger brother. Thus we began to take care of other cases.

But the matter of tzedokoh was also taken up by inshi delo ma'ali who took advantage of Am Yisroel's generosity. They began to collect for "hachnosas kallah." Others began to hunt for needy cases so they could collect from the public for them. They scouted out a genuine foundation, but theirs was a sin of raglayim lesheker -- the need was real but all of the funds collected did not reach their destination.

Similarly, agencies began to work in the field of tzedokoh. People acted as intermediaries, bringing the needy to askonei tzedokoh and demanding that they themselves pass the money on to the needy. They wouldn't allow the askonim to give the money directly to the needy individual or family, but for "some reason," insisted the money pass through their hands! Little by little the expenses for collecting tzedokoh began to surpass the income.

Ten years ago HaRav Ezriel Auerbach brought the issue before Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv and together they tried to work out ways to improve the situation. HaRav Eliashiv suggested that an authoritative body of trustworthy rabbonim be set up to oversee the tzedokoh. His idea began to take shape. Rabbonim from the entire spectrum of chareidi Jewry were contacted and asked to take part. The response rate was 100 percent. The idea was that the rabbonim would look into the requests to verify that the money was collected for "the worthy poor." They also were to ensure the money arrived and was passed on to its designated recipient. The seal "Approved by the Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Tzedokoh Be'eretz Hakodesh" guarantees that you donate to the true cause and the money indeed reaches its destination. Six rabbonim participated in the first meeting.

Y.N.: That was when the guiding principles were laid down?

At that meeting the things on which the Vaad's world of tzedokoh stands were established: No intermediaries. Anyone in need of assistance must contact the Vaad directly. An agency for tzedokoh matters or an intermediary representing a certain case or group of cases is not dealt with. Each case undergoes an individual assessment. No attention is given to a bundle of cases brought by an individual or organization. The money is given directly to the needy and not to an intermediary. These have been the guiding principles to this day. That was not the accepted norm at the time. But that was what the rabbonim required.

Little by little the public regained its faith in tzedokoh drives. As a result the number of requests and the amount of money allocated for every case increased. The widespread activity raised many difficult halachic questions that were presented to the rabbonim.

Y.N.: Such as?

Matters of priority. Who comes first? A ger tzedek, the sick, orphans, people in need of surgery, people in need of organ transplants, hachnosas kallah or hard-pressed talmidei chachomim. Who takes priority? We received general guidelines, but sometimes we went to gedolei hador to ask them to make a final decision.

Y.N.: Your ads include a phone number to dial, 1-800- 223636. Do people call?

Both consciousness of need and the will to give are greater today than in the past. The toll-free number allows Jews to send money to a worthy destination at any hour of the day. Say a Jew is hovering outside an operating room at two in the morning, sefer Tehillim in hand, pouring out supplications. The tension is written all over his face and he looks for something to do for the sake of his family member lying unconscious, stretched out on the operating table. In his heart he feels a strong urge to give, but where can he find a gabbai tzedokoh at that hour? If he waits until tomorrow morning the inspiration might abate. So with a tremulous finger he dials the number and pledges a certain amount.

This represents a revolution in tzedokoh. No askan has to set out door-to-door in search of donors. Instead people are rushing to give. Erev Rosh Hashonoh the phone lines don't stop ringing.

These practices of complete, tight supervision of assessment, distribution and educating the public to give also exist at other tzedokoh organizations that operate under the guidance of maranan verabonon, such as Kupat Ho'ir Bnei Brak, which does tremendous work to help the city's poor. We even collaborate with them sometimes. Recently there was a fund managed by Kupat Ho'ir and we held a joint fundraising drive, going to the kollelim together to collect tzedokoh money for the same goal.

Y.N.: When midas hadin descends upon a Jewish home Rachmono litzlan, there seems to be a great hubbub of activity by askonim. People have barely heard what happened and you are already out there with your cell phones.

What isn't done immediately simply doesn't get done! "Gezeiro al hameis sheyishtakach meihalev" applies to the family members. For people who are more distant it happens even faster. The Brisker Rav zt'l explained that this applies to the public, not the widow and orphans. The wife of the niftar remains a widow, even ten years later. She feels the same pain and has the same needs. The obligation to help is also the same obligation. But as time passes the public's sentiments are no longer the same for, as decreed, the memory of the dead is already forgotten from their hearts.

Therefore it is vital to act quickly. While the public still remembers, while it is still shocked and aching, people are more responsive. That is the time to set up a fund that will bear fruits that can assist the widow even ten years later. Dayan almonos aneinu.

There is also another reason to act quickly. When we set up a fund for a family in mourning whose world has been destroyed, the fund does not just assist with financial rehabilitation. Many cases involve ruchniyus as well, and become cases of genuine hatzolas nefoshos. We have seen cases where an orphaned child Rachmono litzlan began to decline in terms of ruchniyus. In addition to the terrible crisis visited upon his mother and home, there is also nobody to show an interest in him or to provide him emotional support and attention.

The mother is crushed by the burden of day-to-day affairs. When he needs help with his studies there is no money to pay for a private tutor. At that point the situation begins to decline. Sometimes it can be a very sharp decline. Through these funds not only is the home put back on its feet as much as possible, but also many children have been saved from emotional and spiritual deterioration. It is truly a matter of hatzolas nefoshos. Here we have created a new concept in spiritual care. We try to provide a private instructor, a tutor who will take an interest in him and provide warmth and attention. Avi yesomim aneinu.

Such matters are carefully assessed. Once a meeting of rabbonim was held to approve requests and it continued until two in the morning, which is not a particularly unusual sight. After long hours of deliberation the participants were feeling very tired, which was having its effects on the deliberating process. Several cases remained. Then Rav Ezriel Auerbach stood up and suggested the meeting be dismissed. "We'll convene again tomorrow," he said. We are dealing with matters of nefoshos. Due to their fatigue the participants were liable to hurry and make hasty decisions.

Y.N.: HaRav Gefner, HaRav Deutsch and HaRav Becker, with your permission I'd like to diverge a bit. Do you feel the economic crisis has had an effect on fundraising?

The economic situation in Israel has had almost no effect on tzedokoh. The public pays a large portion of its donations by Visa and Isracard and the companies came to us wondering how it could be that there has been no drop in contributions. "You are the only such case," they told us. This was a great Kiddush Hashem.

The entire economy is in a recession and only tzedokoh money has remained almost unaffected. Am Yisroel's generosity defies belief. When the credit card company representatives were stirred by such a uniquely Jewish phenomenon we asked them to cut administrating costs to reduce our expenses. In the face of such a unique set of circumstances, they agreed.

Surely when Heaven assesses the merits of Klal Yisroel, it will see the hundreds of signatures on standing bank orders, the signatures of zechuyos for Amcho Beis Yisroel.

Over NIS 5 Million Donated to 248 Families

by Betzalel Kahn

At a recent meeting of Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Tzedokoh figures from the fundraising drive held during the Yomim Noraim were released, showing that a sum of NIS 5.5 million ($1.2 million) was raised and transferred in full to the 248 families approved by the rabbonim and included in the campaign.

The families received the majority of the money before Yom Kippur, in the form of checks for NIS 17,000. During subsequent weeks donations continued to arrive from every segment of the public--nedorim and nedovos and maos Yizkor--which accumulated to a considerable additional sum. Later the families received a second check for NIS 15,000.

Based on parameters formulated in advance by Vaad rabbonim, 131 families received "major support" while another 117 families were eligible for "sizable support" ranging from NIS 5,000 to NIS 10,000. Approximately 100 other families were later added to the fundraising campaign and received sums of NIS 1,000 to NIS 5,000.

Vaad rabbonim praised the public highly for responding to the call of gedolei Yisroel to give generously for the sake of impoverished Jews despite the difficult economic situation prevailing in Israel.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.