My morning minyan in Herziliya is similar to other minyans around the world; 80% of the people come to daven while 20% of the people come to collect tzedakah. Our shul has a very simple policy; solicitations are permitted only after davening has concluded. Every now and then an aggressive collector tries to avoid this one rule by telling me (I’m the Gabbai, by the way…) that he can’t wait, but I do not show him mercy. “Sorry fella… no walking around the shul until we’re finished.” One of my buddies once said the following to a guy; “Excuse me, I don’t bother you when you daven, so please don’t bother me!” Clever line, which works with some of those guys…
And now for a good story. Recently, we celebrated the beautiful and meaningful holiday of Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Our shul invited a wonderful chazzan plus a guitar player who accompanied him during Hallel. Just before Hallel began, one of the Tzedakah Men showed up. To him, it was a regular Thursday and he was amazed to see the shul so crowded… he struck gold! He looked a little puzzled why there were so many people there – after all, his Bnei Brak shteible had the same 14 guys that morning! Then, he saw the Israeli flags and figured it out. He entered the shul and sat down to wait until davening concluded. As we stood to sing Hallel, he sat learning Mishnayot. He kept looking at his watch thinking – when are these Zionists going to finish? – but we kept going… after all, it’s not every day you wear Tefillin while a great chazzan leads the davening accompanied by a guitar! Towards the end of davening, the chazzan sang a beautiful rendition of the blessing for the State of Israel plus a “misheberach” for the holy IDF soldiers. During these prayers, the entire congregation stood, as is customary. Unfortunately, the Bnei Brak collector sat during the blessing for the State and stood only during the prayer for the soldiers. This angered many of the people in shul and they made a mad dash to complain to me (that’s the main part of the Gabbai’s job…) with lines such as, “How dare he not stand during the prayer for the State of Israel!” Then, a few guys added that I should forbid him from collecting tzedakah. One of my friends said, “I don’t care what he does – or doesn’t do – in his own shul, but right now, he’s in our shul, and by not standing, he clearly doesn’t respect us. Someone like that should not be allowed to collect money in our shul. You must stop him!” People really felt insulted by this guy… “You want me to punish him?” I asked. “YES!” said my friends, “that’s exactly what you should do!”
I did not listen to them and allowed the Tzedakah Man to collect money when davening had ended. I told my friends that if they felt upset or insulted then they shouldn’t give but I refused to “excommunicate” the guy. Let me explain.
Yes, the guy should have stood during the prayer for the State of Israel. That’s the “minhag ha’makom” (local custom) and he should have respected our shul. He clearly needs a lesson in public relations, tact, diplomacy, politeness and even marketing! However, I did not feel that this mistake warranted any action on our part. He is a trustworthy guy who genuinely needs financial help. He teaches Torah and has made many CD’s of his shiurim. Unfortunately, the Yeshiva he teaches in, cannot afford him a normal salary and he falls short each month in paying the bills. Therefore, a few days a week – before beginning his teaching obligations – he goes to several shuls to collect money. This money does not send him on vacations to Aruba or Dubai… it pays his grocery and electricity bills and helps him support his large family.
What has happened to us? Can we only help a brother in need if we agree with his ideology? As I wrote in the previous paragraph, the guy should have definitely stood during this special prayer, but the fact that he did not, does not mean I slap his outstretched hand. His Jewish children are hungry. They need new shoes and probably socks as well… so because their father did not display good manners, I ignore their cries??? Think about HaShem for a moment. Do we do everything He asks of us? Do we make sure to “stand” when He wants us to? Yet, day after day, we come to Him with requests; heal us, redeem us, forgive us, find a shidduch for our children, help us with “parnossa” and much, much more.
Loving a fellow Jew means loving his/her neshama not his/her personality, politics or vision for Eretz Yisrael. Believe me, I pray to see the day that every Yid on the planet – including those who already live in Israel! - understand the incredible gift that HaShem gave us in 1948. I would also love all Jews to drop everything, move their lives to Israel and help build and defend this amazing country, but let’s be honest… that’s not happening so fast. So, in the meantime, what do we do? Help only those who look and think like we do? What about a widow who wears pants in Melbourne, Australia or an orphan boy in Kew Gardens Hills, NY who puts on tefillin only once a month? How about a struggling Yeshivish family with 10 kids in Monsey or a teenager that went “off the derech” in Boston? And… what about a non-Zionist Rav from Bnei Brak who can’t pay the rent?
Throughout history, our enemies have taught us that all Jews are the same. They have always hated us as one… can we do the opposite and love each other as one? This is our greatest challenge; to put our differences of opinion on the side and focus on what unites us… not what divides us. Let’s make that happen!