Sunday, November 17, 2013

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: When To Say No to Tzedakah

Gil Student shared a video produced by Hamodia, chronicling the sad, lamentable overwhelming poverty rampant in the Chareidi world. While the video didn't really ask people to give money, it's safe to assume that this is implied. Yet, I humbly suggest that while simple rachmanut (compassion) demands that we give to the food and social service organizations giving vital services to these families, this video, if anything, must strengthen our resolve not to give money to chareidi yeshivot and educational institutions that are promoting (and forcing) this lifestyle of poverty upon yet another generation of youth. The only way that these institutions will change, is if they realize that the money just isn't there to keep going. I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to do the following: When you open the door or recieve the envelope, and the meshulach asks you for a donations for a yeshiva, educational institution, or kollel, ask a few simple questions:
Does your yeshiva teach basic subjects (in Israel it's called limudei libbah), critical to the childrens' ability to gain employment later on? If it's a yeshiva gedolah, ask whether the yeshiva itself has a job training program for young men leaving the system, and, most importantly, what percentage of young men who leave their yeshiva find gainful employment outside of the chinuch system? Does the culture of your yeshiva promote work and gainful employment, or does it teach the young men that those who leave the yeshiva and kollel are sellouts, second-class citizens who simply couldn't make it.
If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory: they don't teach even the most basic skills, and make no effort to encourage education and employment, then don't give them any money. At all.
Because, contrary to the sob story they're selling you, by giving them more money you are actually an accomplice to the future suffering of the children being raised in a system that will trap them in poverty, with no real way out.
I want to be clear: I'm not against kollel. I learned in kollel. But I am against a kollel system that completely rejects any other type of secular learning and training. Let the guys go to kollel. But then encourage them both during and after the kollel years to study and get real degrees so that they can then enter the workforce and earn a decent living.
This sad saga has so many tragic victims. First and foremost, of course, is that of the children and families suffering. But even more frustrating is that this catastrophe is entirely unnecessary. Chareidim aren't going away. Their numbers continue to grow, and the chareidim are projected to grow to more than half of the Israeli population by 2050. Yet, as a whole, the chareidi leadership's refusal to encourage higher education and gainful employment has damned an entire generation - literally hundreds of thousands - to abject poverty. And, at least for now, the jobs are there. Information technology jobs exist, and chareidim would get them, because they many have a wonderful work ethic (see the number of hours they learn in kollel), and are often willing to work for less than their non-chareidi counterparts. But they don't have the basic skills and education to get those jobs that would enable them to buy their children the vegetables and braces they so badly need.
The second, less-considered tragedy of this saga takes place not in Israel, but in America. American chareidim, by and large, have represented a significant portion of olim. Yet, if I were chareidi living in the States I'd watch that video and say, "I'm never moving there." And, if I were a parent with children learning in Kollel in Israel, I'd make sure that once those two or three years ended, my children came back to Brooklyn, or Detroit or whereever. Just not Israel.
After all, who wants their grandchildren to be the face of the next Hamodia video?
Children suffer. Families suffer. The State of Israel suffers, because its economy is dragged down by a sector mired in poverty. The Jewish people suffer, as American chareidim refuse to consider moving to a country where their children will be condemned to abject poverty.
This is kavod hatorah? Sorry, I just don't see it.
So when the meshulach comes, if his institution refuses to teach that work is not a "four letter word", put your money where your mouth is: Just say no.

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