Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Distributing to the Deserving

One great ancient and ingrained Jewish tradition is tzedaka.  While the word is commonly rendered as "charity" in English translations, the word actually means "justice."  Everyone is obligated to help someone less fortunate then himself/herself. 

Jews are frequently accused of being clannish; this is in no small measure a spin by our enemies upon our tendencies to help our own who are in need.  During the great immigration waves to America of the early 1900's, newly-arrived Jewish immigrants were given extensive aid by various organizations and individuals within the American Jewish community.  One such recipient of this tzedaka was my great-grandmother, who arrived here a widow with three young daughters (my grandmother being one of them).  One hundred years later, my great-grandmother's descendants have returned this tzedaka many times over (even when adjusted to current dollars), not only to the Jewish community but to America as a whole.  And this does not count a multi-millionaire cousin of mine who is active in some well-known charitable organizations.

And so, before I left for my current excursion to Israel, many members of my congregation gave me tzedaka money to distribute to Israel's needy.

Problem:  I have a dollar of tzedaka to distribute (there are many money changer businesses in the city, some within a few meters of one another, all thriving in the tourist trade; changing that dollar bill into shekels would be no problem whatsoever for the recipient).  To which of these supplicants should I give that dollar:

A)  Woman on street, single mom with 5 kids, says she needs money to feed her kids for the Sabbath (Shabbat).

B)  Woman, divorced within past month, 2 young children at home and one teenager learning in yeshiva, ex-husband has severely limited wherewithal to provide support, woman got house as a result of the divorce, but is struggling to keep it.  House has 4 bedrooms, plus a basement apartment that can be rented out.  Sufficient food in kitchen to feed woman, her three children, plus 3 guests.  House has air conditioning.

Ceteris paribus, that tzedaka dollar would go to Woman A.  And that is to whom I gave a $10 bill.

Except … 

Except that Woman A has an attitude.  She was berating me for not giving her more, she wants me to buy here entire Shabbat meals (the street upon which she asks alms has a significant amount of foot traffic), and she wants me to buy her all kinds of other things.

What to do?

When I got back to the car, my son (who is now living in the city) told me that he is familiar with that woman, and she has a reputation; she really is needy but that does not stop her from having the attitude.

But Woman B happens to be my son's ex-landlady.  And before we came, he realized that his erstwhile apartment, in the basement of Woman B's house, was vacant, so he convinced his former landlady to rent it out to me and my wife for a week.

Well, it turns out that the rate Woman B was charging us was quoted to us in error.  Her ex-husband had theretofore handled the rental of the apartment, but now the house is all hers.  She had somehow gotten the wrong figure for the rent from the records left by her ex, and had charged us approximately 700 shekels less than the true rental value of the apartment.

Our son was (and has remained) on good terms with his former landlady; his reasons for relocating to his current quarters 2 blocks away had nothing to do with her or her now former husband.  Ms. B accordingly was able to approach my son and inform her of the situation.  When our son apprised us of it, we decided to give Ms. B an additional 700 shekel for the apartment.

This act of tzedaka went beyond the 700 shekels, however, because when the next tenant comes in (she seems to be on the verge of consummating a deal with someone), Ms. B will receive an appropriate amount of rent.

As for Ms. A, with her welfare entitlement mentality, she may well continue to take advantage of the kindness of tzedaka-minded visitors.  But I will not be one of them.

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  • At 26 August, 2014 05:25, Blogger Harry Flashman said…

    That's interesting. I personally wouldn't give a plugged nickle to people I didn't know. I've been suckered too often by fakers. Then again, Scotch Irish don't have any tradition like that I'm aware of, so I am not under any pressure.

    I saw Israel from the deck of the U.S.S. Puget Sounds in 1982. I didn't get to go ashore, which was rough because I read a lot about the IDF, and knew some IDF officers at Quantico. I did get to go ashore a good bit in Beirut. Not so desirable a visiting place.

  • At 26 August, 2014 15:09, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    Yes, Harry, we do have a tradition of tzedaka, and some "bad investments" are part of the overhead costs, just as retail shopkeepers large and small have the inherent overhead costs of inventory shrinkage (a term used by the beancounters to refer to losses from shoplifters and disloyal employees).

    Travel to Israel, and receptiveness to friendly visitors, has improved significantly since 1982 (never mind the body scanners in the airline terminals). You might consider visiting Israel in the near future. It is my understanding that the Scotch Irish do have a tradition of being adventuresome and intrepid, so all of the things you read in the MSM shouldn't faze you, particularly with your past military experience.

  • At 27 August, 2014 10:44, Blogger Harry Flashman said…

    Oh, I don't pay any attention to the MSN. I don't think many people do, at least in the South.

    My wife and I may make a trip to Israel when she retires. I want to see the Air Force Museum, the Armor Museum, and some of the battle field locations from the Israeli War of Independence. Also I have a Jewish friend who made Aliyah (did I say that right) there some years back and I would like to see her again. The wedding ring I got for my wife was made in Israel, but I got it in the Navy PX in Naples, Italy. I like your blog. I am sorry for your loss of your child.

  • At 27 August, 2014 14:55, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    No, Harry, I didn't lose a child, thank G-d. My son, who has made Aliyah, is alive and well, and asking me and my wife for more money so he can start a new business (he will get it with conditions attached), while awaiting a decision as to whether the IDF will or will not induct him (he has orthopedic issues).

    And yes, the Air Force Museum in Beersheva, and the Armor Museum at Latrun, are on the "must see" list, as is the Ayalon Institute. And Kibbutz Ayelet HaShachar (which, like other kibbutzim, has gotten quite capitalistic) has a firing range where people, including tourists, can keep in practice.

    A few years ago, we engaged a professional licensed tour guide to take us to the various places, including the aforementioned ones, plus some more off the beaten track places. He cost us a pretty penny (including his tip), but we certainly got what we paid for.

    Now that our son is over there, he takes us to the various places.

  • At 02 September, 2014 13:24, Blogger Harry Flashman said…

    I must have misunderstood. I'm glad I did, though.

    Latrun was the sight of the Arab Legion police fortress that was such a tough nut to crack in your war of independence if I remember right.


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