Friday, June 11, 2010

Charitable Contributions to Individuals through Non-Profits

In our community, oftentimes we receive solicitations for donations for a specific individuals. The cause of most is the wedding of the daughter of the individual (sometimes a son, but that's less likely). Most of the times those people are in Israel, though some are from the US.

Who I have the beef with, is with the writer of the solicitation. 99.9% of the time it's not the person in need. 99.9% of the time it's someone writing on behalf of that person. What's assumed is that that concerned person actually knows what's going on with the person in distress. But is it a fair assumption? How do we know if the concerned person isn't just a good-hearted person who feels that the needy person needs a fancy wedding, an expensive shaytel (wig) for the bride, new furniture, an apartment to own (Israeli thing, obviously), or a car?

The answer is - we don't. And that's sad. Because a lot of community resources can go to waste subsidizing something that the couple may not need. It's also sad because people without means will get used to getting things because someone makes an emotional appeal for them. Let me give an example:

Someone I know was engaged and about to get married. He really wanted to get a siddur for his bride - a decorated one. However, he was extremely poor. When he was at the store, he saw two siddurs: one for $30 and another for $50. He had only $30. So he started thinking about what he should do - should he borrow another $20? He meets his Rosh Yeshivah, tells him his story. The Rosh Yeshivah takes out a $20 and gives it to the bochur to buy the $50 siddur for his bride. What is the lesson learned here by the bochur? Don't do your השתדלות! Don't plan ahead! There will be someone or something to subsidize your wants!

Is this a lesson that we want to teach poor people? That they should feel entitled?!

Am I cold hearted?

The solution I see lies in organizations, not individuals. I'd rather have the poor individuals go to organizations that do chesed for people of little of no means. In the city I live, such organizations are plenty, and they're amazing in the work they do. There are all kinds of G'machs: from sheytel g'machs to wedding dress g'machs to an entire organization that will make your wedding for you - food, photography, video, and band included at cost of even below it!!! However, the needy individual has to make an effort. Maybe he needs to show his income, and yes, the questions asked and solutions offered may not be 100% what they want.

But you know what? Even people of adequate means don't get 100% of what they want!!! Not even when they buy new stuff!!! That's life.

Plus this allows people of means to give to organizations that will utilize the funds more efficiently and (hopefully) with less redundancy, and, if the organizations are non-profits, the donations can be truly tax deductible. Because donations given to a non-profit organization for a particular individual are NOT tax-deductible. EVEN if you get a receipt. This is what's written in the IRS publication 526 on this topic:

Contributions to Individuals

You cannot deduct contributions to specific individuals, including the following:

Contributions to individuals who are needy or worthy. This includes contributions to a qualified organization if you indicate that your contribution is for a specific person. But you can deduct a contribution that you give to a qualified organization that in turn helps needy or worthy individuals if you do not indicate that your contribution is for a specific person.

This goes back to my initial point: a concerned person will tell you to mail a check to "such and such" organization in order to get a donation receipt. However, as you can see it from the publication above - it's illegal.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

You know, the מעשה helps as well

Today in shul, a young fellow inquired about my family status. After finding out that I've been married for over two years, and don't have kids yet, the guy stated:

"You know, the most important thing [in the business of having kids] is the tefilla (prayer)"

to which I answered

"Yes, but the מעשה (the deed) helps as well"

Reminds me of the Russian joke about the tomato juice that I heard from a rabbi. Here's how it goes:

A professor was asked: what is the best contraceptive? He answered: Tomato Juice. The audience was puzzled. Finally, a student asks: "Before or After (До или После)?". The professor answers: "Instead (Вместо)."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Frum Jews and Genetic Screening

Let me start off saying that it is very possible that I can be completely wrong on this. However, I have some anecdotal evidence that could show the opposite.

My wife and I know a frum, chassidic family where the wife is very much opposed to the use of modern medicine, and uses it only in extreme measures. Let me give you an example: as far as I know, this family does not vaccinate their children, the wife, when she was ill with a serious illness, used only natural remedies and let the illness progress significally before getting treatment.

This brings me to the following news article:
( Dov Ber Holtzberg, the four-year-old son of murdered Chabad emissaries to Mumbai, India, Rabbi Gavriel Noach and Rivki Holtzberg died at a Jerusalem hospital during the predawn hours of Tuesday from Tay-Sachs disease. The Holtzbergs lost their first son to the disease at the age of three.
Yes, I know that it's bad to speak about the deceased, and yes, the story is heart-wrenching. However, given how much information there is on "Jewish" genetic diseases, the Dor Yesharim service (among others), and the fact that they already had one child with Tay-Sachs, why do people have so much bitachon and so little hishtadlut?

I am not saying that this wonderful couple, may G-d avenge their death, should not have never gotten married, chas v'halila. However, given the fact that they knew that both of them were carriers for Tay-Sachs after the birth of their first child, why not exercise caution, and not rely on providence? And yes, I know that "caution" is a very light word for that; however, does it warrant the misery they and their relatives had to endure? Note that there's a one in four chance to have a Tay-Sachs baby if both parents are carriers - not one in a million.

Why not take a chance to prevent more misery? Isn't there already too much misery in the world?

I'm just puzzled by this.

And again, I would like to say to Moshe - the only survivor of this family: 
"Hamakom Yenachem Otcha B'Toch Avelei Tzion veYerushalaim." 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Parsha Thought

Today I've got a weekly email from my shul. In it, the Rav of the shul expounded on virtues of "Being Honest and Learning Good Even from Wicked." As an example, he brought the honesty of Yaakov in his dealings with Lavan, and, as a parallel, brought down a story about Chafetz Chayim. The story is as follows:

In a bathhouse, the Chofetz Chaim (a distinguished Torah Scholar Rabbi Meir haCohen) once saw a person using an article that belonged to someone else. The Chofetz Chaim went over to him and whispered, " A person who washes himself with something that does not belong to him ends up dirtier than when he started."

I'm just wondering: how long will it be until someone quotes this story and based on it, will claim that Chafetz Chayim was an expert on infectious diseases.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quiz from Emes Ve-Emunah

R Harry Maryles has the following quiz on his blog. It is not composed by him, rather sent to him by one of his readers. Enjoy.

1) Imagine this scenario: In the course of your work, you find that another “frum” employee is taking large sums from the company, in the process depleting a pension fund so that dozens of lower-level laborers at another site (probably all non-Jews) will be cheated of their retirement funds. What do you do?

A) Ask him for a percentage, implying that if he doesn’t cut you in you’ll tell.
B) Nothing, because taking money would be abetting the theft and telling on him would be mesirah.
C) Tell him to stop stealing and to return what he took.
D) Call the police and/ or the company security force.

2) Your boss, seeing that all 8 days of Chanuka are marked in red on the calendar, asks you if you need all the days off, or just the first two and last two. What do you reply?

A) You tell him you also need a day before and a day after, to set up the Menorah and take it down.
B) Yes, you need all 8 days off
C) Only the first and last days.
D) You tell him the truth, that work is unaffected.

3) A close relative is seriously ill, and you really want to help. What do you do?

A) You fly to a famous Eastern European cemetery, where you recite a prayer.
B) You have a prayer said in the synagogue the next time you are there.
C) You recite Psalms at home.
D) You recite Psalms and give charity.

4) In selecting a bride for your son, how much of a role does her parent’s wealth play?

A) Hugely important, I am tired of supporting him.
B) Hugely important, my son is too learned to have to worry about money.
C) If they have money, it means they are smart, and I want a girl with good genes.
D) More important is how they got the money: is the money kosher?

5) In checking out a potential shidduch, which of the following is a deal-breaker? (Select only the most important, if several qualify)

A) The boy/ girl has been in trouble with the police over drugs & alcohol
B) The family has a history of relatives in jail.
C) The family eats “gebrokts” on Passover.
D) The potential groom/ bride is overweight .

6) If your plumber is known to be refusing to give his wife a “Get”, and your dishwasher isn’t working, what do you do?

A) Call him anyway, since it is impossible to live without a dishwasher.
B) Hire a cleaning lady until you get a number for another “heimishe” plumber.
C) Call a different plumber from the Yellow Pages.
D) Call him, tell him why you are not using him, and call a different plumber from the Yellow Pages

7) Your young child tells you that his Yeshiva is cheating, taking government funding that it isn’t entitled to by inflating attendance figures. He thinks it’s all good fun. What do you do?

A) Ask for a discount on your tuition.
B) Nothing, the Rosh yeshiva is a Godol, and if he does it, it must be okay.
C) Spread the news around in shul.
D) Protest formally to the yeshiva, and take your child out, explaining why.

8) You are down to your last money for the month, there are still four tzedaka appeals in front of you, and you can only respond to one. Which do you send to?

A) Pidyon Shevuyim for a Satmar in jail for beating up an anti-Zalman.
B) Pidyon Shevuyim for a nursing-home crook, a Talmid Chochom caught faking mortgages, or a frum smuggler who “didn’t know”.
C) Kupath Ha’ir, despite their inane ads
D) Your local needy person and/or shul.

9) How do you fulfill the custom of “Kaporos”?

A) I go to the closest place that has live chickens. Period.
B) I use live chickens, but only if they don’t look like they are being abused.
C) I do what my neighbors do, and that’s good enough.
D) I use money only.

10) I skip my evening Daf Yomi when…

A)… Only when my wife won’t find out
B)…..I can find an excuse.
C) . .. I am tired
D) …I need a break.

11) In making a simcha, the following is NOT a factor at all:

A) Money
B) What the “machatonim” want
C) What the kids want
D) What others think

12) My reaction, when I see headlines accusing a religious man of criminality, is:

A) To accuse the media of being anti-Semites.
B) To judge him innocent, period.
C) To judge him innocent until proven guilty.
D) To be ashamed.

13) I drink only Chalav Yisroel…

A) When anyone is looking
B) Always
C) Unless I’m out of town
D) Except for ice cream and candy bars.

14) Shtreimels are…

A) As important as anything else in the Torah
B) Almost as important as anything else in the Torah
C) Optional
D) Too hot to wear in the summer

15) My wife’s hair covering must be…

A) All of it, all the time, double-wrapped.
B) Sheitel, snood, I don’t care as long as it’s covered
C) Whatever, as long as she’s still attractive
D) Basically covered, but it’s really her decision

16) Shabbos meals must be…

A) Precisely the same menu, 52 weeks a year, because it’s holy
B) Absolutely must have at least fish, chicken, kugel and chulent
C) Can vary a little bit, if the Mrs wants
D) Must be inviting to those eating them.

17) After the “Motzi” blessing, I cut the Challah, and then...

A) Handle each piece, dipping it in salt and handing them out
B) The law says to dip it in salt, so I dip it, of course!
C) Realize that salt shakers are a recent invention, as is hygiene
D) Just cut them and pass them around on a plate with the salt shaker

Chai) On Rosh Hashana, the following is on my table:

A) Honey, a dozen fruits whose names I don’t know, and a big animal head
B) Honey, some fruits, and I have no idea why
C) Honey, a pomegranate, and some odd fruit for a shehechyanu blessing
C) Honey, a pomegranate, and a printed guide from a charity that lists customs I can make fun of.

How to score your results:

For every A answer, add one point.
For every B answer, add two points.
For every C answer, add three points
For every D answer, add four points
Add the numbers together to get a total

If your total is:

18 or 19 You should not be reading this, you should be on Yeshiva World or Vos Iz Neiz writing nasty bigoted comments in broken English and in all caps. Also, you need to shower more frequently. Even if they didn’t in the old country.

20 to 36 You are badly in need of continuing education in Judaism’s core values, ethics, and basic morality. Also, you should brush your hat.

37 to 50 You aren’t as closed-minded as some, but you are still far from being a complete human being. You need to learn more about Halacha and about Jewish values.

51 to 65 Mazel Tov, pat yourself on the back, you’re several steps above a Neanderthal. At least you understood all the words here, and most likely feel entitled to act really superior now that you have proven that you are too smart to read the Jewish Press anymore. Still, don’t get too snooty since you actually did demean yourself by taking this quiz.

66 to … Have you already calculated what the highest score could be? I thought so. I also think that you probably cheated a little, choosing answers for point value more than for veracity. So, you’re a top scorer, you think that makes you a mensch? It doesn’t, since you have already betrayed insecurity in your religious values by taking this dumb test. Get with the
program- the real program- and start learning so you can help rescue the ignorant from sinking into the morass of ignorance and superstition that is overtaking Orthodox Judaism.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Heavenly court proceedings revealed - Finally

Finally, a detailed account into proceedings of the heavenly court. What makes this one so special is:
  1. It is contemporary
  2. Includes video (reinactment / recreation)
This was sent to me by a very respectable rav in my community that heads a yeshiva.
The link to the video was preceded by this:
My dear friends:
I rarely, if ever, forward messages on a mass scale, but what can I say? The following (is a) long video . . . and perhaps you should save it for Tisha B'av. Even if you take this man story with many grains of salt . . . its message is inspirational and jolting to the neshama!! A very very worthwhile investment of time!
I hope you have a meaningful fast!"
The way I understand it is as follows: "This can all be a bubbe-maisa, but it is inspirational and neshama-joulting"