Several years ago, I wrote an article about a man I had met who had fallen on hard times. Thanks to our wonderful, generous readers, we raised some $40,000 for him and his family. He came to visit me last week, and he still needs our help. Let me remind you about him and his story. He is a well-known Yerushalmi baal chessed, whose face is familiar since he has appeared in many news photos of bomb scenes. He is one of the first responders, rushing in to help deal with the wounds and pain of terror victims.
Flashed across the world, a picture of this man clutching a wounded baby in his arms epitomized the struggle between goodness and humanity and the forces of evil.
I was speaking with him about his experiences at bomb sites and how he deals with the mental anguish. It was a matter-of-fact conversation. There were bombs going off every other day at that time and we were talking about the inherent difficulties. He was saying how he had learned how to live with the horror he was confronted with at that time.
He spoke like a veteran. He’d been through so much and seen so much grief and tragedy that he had acquired a certain detached resignation.
In the course of our conversation, not aware of the emotions I was stirring up, I asked him what he does for a living. He shrugged me off and changed the subject. But I really was curious to know what this person did when he wasn’t occupied with his demanding chessed work. So I came back to it and asked him again. Had it not been so late at night, I might have picked up the cues and dropped the subject. But as it was, my senses were dulled, so I persisted. To my amazement, I saw tears well up in his eyes. I knew that meant trouble.
This tall, strong man, bedecked in a bekeshe and shtreimel, choked up, unable to control his emotions. He could talk about bombings without crying; he could recount unspeakable acts of terror without breaking down, but when pressed to discuss how he makes a living, he was unable to hold in his despair.
I took him to a side room, and said, “Okay, Reb Yid, tell me your story. Maybe I can help you.”
When you speak to people about the matzav of people from our community in Eretz Yisroel, right away they say, “Let them go work; let them get a job.” Try raising money for a kollel family that is struggling to make ends meet. Certain people will help you, while others will shrug you off and say, “Why can’t he just go work? Why do they need so many guys in kollel anyway?” And then they say, “Let them go find a job.”
Listen to this man’s story.
He married over 20 years ago and immediately went to work. As a Shomer Emunim chossid, a kollel lifestyle wasn’t part of his upbringing. For almost two decades, he held various well-paying jobs. He was a good provider, bringing home a decent salary, living in a modest apartment and making ends meet. One of his many acts of chessed is that he has an open home and provides Shabbos meals for yeshiva bochurim and those in need.
Then the intifada came along. The economy went into a tailspin. His hours got cut. And cut again. And again. And again. He switched jobs. The same thing happened. He switched again. The same thing happened. The economy was grinding to a halt and it was getting harder and harder to make ends meet. He got a job in a yeshiva and then the yeshiva ran out of money.
This conscientious father and husband, who worked hard at whatever decent jobs he could get so that he should not have to depend upon other people, was left unemployed.
He desperately wanted to find a job – any job, but there were none to be found. He had exhausted every possible avenue, to no avail.
That evening, years ago, he looked at me and I looked at him. What could I say? What words of comfort and hope could I offer?
I offered to take him home with me to Monsey. I said, “Stay over the night in my house, and tomorrow I’ll go around with you. I can’t guarantee how we’ll make out, but we’ll try. We’ll knock on the doors of generous, good-hearted people who have jobs and ask them to help you out.”
He wouldn’t hear of it. No way. Beshum oifen, lo, lo, lo. “I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to shnorr. My whole adult life I worked. I was a melamed. I was a rebbi. I did other things. I can’t lower myself to go begging.”
I tried to persuade him to change his mind. I said, “We’ll do it in a dignified manner. I’ll make sure you won’t get any bizyonos.” No matter what I said, he wouldn’t hear of it.
I told him that I write for a newspaper and sometimes have siyata diShmaya. Sometimes Hashem helps me and my articles are well received. I offered to write something on his behalf, to appeal for some help in getting him back on his feet. “Nobody will know who it’s for,” I told him. “You won’t be humiliated. Maybe Hashem will help and people will send in nice contributions.”
“I simply can’t,” he said. “I never shnorred in my life and I’m not going to shnorr now. Beshum ponim v’oifen, lo.” My heart went out to him. A decent, honorable person like this, brought to such straits!
I made one last try. “You know what, my new friend? Take my number, go home and think about it. If you reconsider, give me a call.”
Months later, he called. My heart sank at his words. His matzav had become unbearable.
“Reb Pinchos, I can’t go on anymore. I have hungry children. They have no shoes. I’m going to have to take you up on your offer – if it’s still good.”
At that time, I wrote about him, and you responded overwhelmingly to his plea for help. The envelopes poured in day after day and people blessed in this country sent in contributions to help this man and his family.
Several years have passed since then. Our friend tried his hand at many things since then. He tried to open businesses and nothing worked. Several people came to his aid and offered to invest with him to open a restaurant. He spent a year working on the project, researching pots, pans, ovens, stoves, suppliers and doing everything else that goes into establishing a proper restaurant. Finally, with everything planned out, he selected a location, his investors approved it and he was all ready to finally put bread on the table once again like a proud mentch.
But then someone opened a restaurant right next door to where his research indicated was the best place to open. He was crestfallen, but with emunah and bitachon carried on his search. He was sort of relieved when three months later the other store closed, as a result of a combination of high rent, competition and not enough business to go around. It was back to the drawing board, albeit without much success.
He finally found a job. He works all day and makes $250 a week, $1000 a month. That is sort of average for Israeli employees. Now how can a family live on that? How can he be expected to make ends meet? There is no way. What is a person to do? How can he hope to ever crawl out of his debt? How can he hope to ever live like a decent person on $1000 a month? How can anyone expect a family to live on that? There is no way.
Last week, this proud man came to see me. He is back in America reduced to trying to get people to let him in the door so he can plead his case. He has everything documented; who he owes and how much. He has his finances all figured out, but he never managed to crawl out from the mountain of debt he accumulated during the years he was out of work, and he is once more desperately trying to get it all together so he can go on living.
We helped him once before; he asks that we help him again.
How can we ignore his pleas? Our hearts must go out to him.
In this country, when we speak of economic difficulty, we are not speaking of a dire situation where masses of people from our community are living in abject poverty with not a dime, or shekel, of income.
Yes, there are needy people everywhere and people lose their jobs here, too. People struggle. There are many people who can use a helping hand. But on this side of the Atlantic, quite often, neighbors pitch in; family helps. There is HUD, welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and WIC. People collect unemployment and look for a new job. There are grounds to be optimistic. There are opportunities out there. It is not for naught that America is referred to as a land of opportunity. In Eretz Yisroel today, there is a lack of opportunity and for many people nowhere to turn. There is no way out. There are no jobs. There are no well-to-do friends and neighbors to take a loan from. There comes a time when the local makolet refuses to sell anything more on credit.
There comes a time when even strong, capable and dignified people crack under the terrible pressure and come knocking at your door for a handout. We all want to do something to help. This is our chance.
You can help this special person and his family by writing a tax deductible check to Beis Yosef Meir and sending it to me at 53 Olympia Lane, Monsey, N.Y., 10952.
May we all be blessed that we never become so desperate.
© 2007 Yated Neeman