Monday, August 9, 2010

"A little girl sick with cancer"

It’s been a great week here; we’ve gotten together with several friends who have made aliyah, we’ve visited Ramat Shilo/Ramat Beit Shemesh, Yad Binyamin (a wonderful Shabbos!), and Beer Sheva, and we’ve had a chance to breathe after the hectic year that just passed. Very, very good; a beautiful trip – and we still have two days left, thank Gd.

It has been hard to deal with one aspect of traveling around Israel, though: the constant call of people in economic need.

I knew they would be here; as a policy, I regularly purchase small items with large-shekel bills so that I’ll have the half-shekel and one-shekel coins to distribute to them. But this time it’s worse, at least in Yerushalayim. I don’t know that the general מצב (situation) is any worse, but it never hit me as hard before, probably because I wasn’t as exposed to the phenomenon.

The major sites for people sitting on the ground and calling for help, at least where we’ve been this trip, are the shuls and the תחנה מרכזית (central bus station). When I was here in yeshiva I rarely traveled. When I was here with Federation trips we rode charter buses rather than travel by city bus; we went to Yad Eliezer and youth villages, but that's not the same as the woman on the street with her hand out. I was here for work this past January, but that was a lightning trip – four days from beginning to end, including the flights. On this trip, though, we’ve spent a lot of time walking back and forth between Rechavyah and the תחנה, walking up and down King George/Strauss/Yechezkel, and walking from Rechavyah to the Old City. The result: Lots of exposure to people in need.

Many of them are the usual suspects – older men and women on the street, as well as chassidim of various varieties at the minyanim. But others, too. A young woman in a snood, looking very much like any number of women I saw in Yad Binyamin, at the תחנה last night. An apparently healthy young man in shul the other morning. And the woman who provided the title of this post, who has been stationed outside the תחנה (by the train-track construction, where you cross the street if you came in by intracity bus) every day for at least the past week, repeating in a monotone, “ילדה חולת סרטן, A little girl sick with cancer.”

I have a hard time with this. I am well aware that some of the collectors could go to work, and that many of the stories these people tell are false or colored. Still – how can you hear ילדה חולת סרטן and walk on? And yet, I did just a short while ago…

Very tough.

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here.]


  1. My thought process in such a situation is "I only have a limited amount of money. I would prefer to give it to a registered charity, where I can be sure it will do some good, rather than to someone on the street who may not be what they claim to be." But there is still a nagging doubt that I am making excuses.

  2. i agree with daniel, i always feel like i am contributing to the problem of begging. I know there are many people who have a genuine need, but how do i tell? If someone does ask me, i often ask if they are hungry and i can by them something to eat, rather than give money that will go on drugs.

  3. I say give them a shekel (roughly a quarter CAD). If some one finds begging the best way to make a living, they already deserve pity.

    I have had beggars throw the half-shekel coins back at me, and I don't know how to react to that at all. Especially after I bent down and picked it up.

  4. Wow. Rehavia is my old stomping grounds. I don't remember beggars in any of the Jewish neighborhoods, just outside the east gate of the old city.

    We certainly have it here, though. Every street corner with a traffic light, almost, someone holding a sign. They're here in town because it's the best place in the county for social services, but I don't think it helps them more to contribute individually, that just encourages begging. We pretty much feel the same way as Daniel Saunders, although I will hand out food, if someone has a sign saying they're hungry.

  5. Daniel, Yair, Laya, Tzippora-
    Agreed on all points. One reason it feels like an excuse is the fact that I have some money reserved for 'impulse purchases.'

  6. Well it couldn't have been that tough for you since you walked away.