By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Thirteen Year-olds or Thirteen Gallons?
Recalibrating our Charity Priorities
(Sixth in a series of articles by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
on the issue of communal support for Jewish Education)
Please allow me introduce you to Yossi. Yossi is almost thirteen years old, and is in seventh grade at the local yeshiva. He was barely keeping pace in the lower grades, but when he started gemorah things began to unravel rapidly. He struggled to keep pace with his classmates for a few difficult months, but he kept falling further and further behind.
Yossi’s parents divorced a few years ago. His father remarried and moved out of the vicinity. When Yossi is at his mother’s house, he often davens at home on Shabbos morning. He is simply embarrassed to sit by himself in shul. During the week, his father tries to make the time to learn with him on the phone, but since he remarried; … well, you know how it is.
Yossi would have a decent chance at success in school if his parents could find and pay for a tutor to learn with him twice a week. But his heroic single mother is marshalling all her energy just to juggle the demands of work, her children and managing her home. Yossi’s rebbi knows of a kollel fellow who could tutor him and throw him a life preserver that could save him from becoming a statistic. The tutor would cost seventy-five dollars a week. Yossi’s caring rebbi went to his principal and asked him to try and find the funds to pay for the tutor. The (equally caring) principal sighed, thinking of how he was going to make payroll in three short days. He would love to help, but, … well, you know how it is.
I often think of the Yossi’s (and the Rochel’s) in our school system that are drowning due to the lack of funding for Jewish Education overall and for the types of intervention that could help them make it before they slide into the morass of at-risk behaviors.
I especially thought about Yossi and Rochel a few weeks ago as I read the Machberes column in The Jewish Press describing the preparation for the upcoming Lag Ba’omer and specifically the few lines describing the “hallowed custom” to supply “Chai Rotel” of wine and drinks to visitors in Meron.
For the past few years, large ads have been running in virtually all the Jewish newspapers during the weeks of sefirah encouraging prospective donors to contribute “Chai Rotel” of drinks to visitors to Meron on Lag Ba’omer, the yahrtzeit of Reb Shimon Bar Yochai.
Legend has it that some unnamed tzadik promised material benefits (yeshu’os) to those who contribute 18 ‘rotels’ (a rotel is a liquid measure; 18 rotels equals 54 liters or about 13 gallons) of wine or drink to provide visitors to Meron with refreshment during their stay. And if the past few years are any indication, I suspect that many such ads will be presented to the readers of Jewish newspapers in the weeks ahead.
I am personally uncomfortable with the notion of hawking ‘yeshuos’ in advertisements for tzedakos, and I may address this issue in a future column.
But for now, let’s discuss this “Chai Rotel” charity and how it stacks up with the needs of the Yossi’s and Rochel’s in our communities. Sadly, Yossi is not getting our attention as much as he should. There are no glitzy ads promising ‘yeshuos’ to people who will throw him a lifeline. In fact, if I may be so bold, I think that we suffer from communal A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder), where we are finding it difficult to pay attention to the needs of the children in our own communities.
Honestly, with our rebbeim and moros grossly underpaid and our yeshivos struggling to make payroll, is providing gallons of alcoholic drinks to adults who made a conscious decision to spend Lag Baomer in Meron a pressing communal need that begs to be addressed? Aren’t there more appropriate venues for our charitable funds? Allow me ask another, more piercing question. Is it appropriate for someone who is receiving a tuition scholarship to go to Meron for Lag Baomer in the first place?
So, what will it be: Rochel’s or Rotels? Thirteen-year-olds or thirteen gallons?
While you ponder these questions, the sad and confused eyes of the children who are not making it in our school system are looking to you for answers.
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved