Jan 30, 2006

Tzedaka Spam

We get tens of items of Tzedaka spam each week. What is tzedaka spam? Tzedaka spam is usually colorful brochures and flyersstuffed into mailboxes that tell a story of someone who has recently died leaving x number of orphans who have nobody to support them or a poor avreich (man learning in kollel) who has 12 kids and now has to marry one off, an avreich who is so poor that he cannot afford to pay for his extremely expensive medications for his cancer, etc. These flyers go on to request money - often a commitment of a small amount per month or a one time donation. They always have the support of a list of many usually well-known Rabbis, oftentimes it is the same Rabbis on many of the flyers.

If one takes the time to actually read some of these stories, they are heart-rending. How can one not feel compassion for these downtrodden? How can one not feel the intense need to help and mail off a check?

The thing is, most people do not bother reading these flyers. In my apartment building, the garbage can by the front door of the building is always filled to overflowing with these flyers that people removed from the mailboxes and threw right into the garbage. I almost never read them. I remove it from my box and toss it right into the bin.

I recently read one and it was unbelievable how much bad fortune could befall one person. This man was deathly ill with some form of cancer. The medicine he needs is not covered in the national healthcare basket of medicines, so the price is exorbitant and well beyong his capabilities. Despite all that, the medicine is only dealing with the side effects and pain, and it will extend his life by a few months. If he does not get the medicine and treatment, he will die in x number of months. He has 7 children and can't put bread on the table because his medicines are so expensive. It went on to say he considered not even taking the medicines, so as not to be a burden on people, especially because the medicine will not save his life, but merely extend it for a while. After many consultations with doctors and Rabbis, he decided to ask for help in raising the money.

This is just one example. Many of them tell similar stories of poverty and serious life threatening illnesses. Some are simply calls to support a tzedaka fund from one city or another. Some of them promise that certain great Rabbis will bless you or pray for you if you send a donation of x amount or more, etc..

Why do we mostly ignore these pleas for help. Do we not want to feel bad not sending money, so we don't even bother reading it? Do we not want to know about the troubles of our fellow Jews? Are we so cynical that we think that he had it coming and if he needed money so badly let him go get a job? Can we not afford sending each one money, as there are so many and it is never ending, so we just don't bother? Do we have different priorities for what we do with our tzedaka monies? Maybe the story is not true, or at best exaggerated for shock effect? Why must I send them a check when I have poor people in my own neighborhood?
I know I have rationalized my not giving, and even my not reading these flyers, with each one of these thoughts, at different times.

Some people I know read each one, say a short chapter from tehillim and will put a small check for a couple of dollars in the mail to each one. I think most of us (based on an informal survey of garbage cans near the different buildings mailboxes) choose to ignore the requests. But should we?
Are we simply trying to avoid the responsibility of helping a Jew in need (by not reading them, one can plead ignorance) or is it justified?

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