A view from Jerusalem Poverty
By Hillel Goldberg
He also knows not to be the sole support. He helps a bride and groom from an impoverished family with $5,000,- if the young couple secures $5,000 in matching funds (from friends, family, whomever). He provides a family moving from a hovel to better quarters with the transition expenses. He provides unheated homes with electric heaters (the day after my tour he expects a shipment of 100 of them). He replaces refrigerators that do not work, paints a 700-square-foot apartment to make it more livable for its family of five, and fixes a burst water heater.
He also knows when not to give money.
He seems to have collapsed 35 years of trial-and-error in US government poverty policy into one rule, both complex and simple: the way out of poverty is not the same for everyone. To some, you give money; they will know what to do with it. To others, you do not give money; they will only waste it. For those who cannot handle -money wisely, you pay the water heater repairman directly, or hire the painter yourself, or open a line of credit at a local grocery, specifying that it covers only nutritious foods. In such a case, a family never sees money - but the children get the .foods they need.
"Every person is a world for himself," Goldberg tells me as we approach a home in which the 28-year-old father has just died, leaving a widow and three children. Already impoverished before the tragedy, the family is renting a one-and-a-half room apartment.
We arrive at the time of the afternoon prayers, the mourner's minyan. The apartment is So small it can't even fit a minyan of 10 men inside. The front door is open and half the minyan is outside in the stairwell. Goldberg is coordinating efforts to put together a trust fund. Meanwhile, he has committed to help the family with $200 a month for one year.
Again, no permanent dole Rather, money to tide people through the crisis.
I never saw the inside of that home, but I blanched - in fact had to hold back tears - at the next ones Goldberg showed me. Is this Jerusalem - or Calcutta?
We are in the Beis Yisracl neighborhood. The living quarters in this "apartment" are one small room. It is impossible to describe the walls, the missing plaster, the discoloration due to the dankness, the cold, the darkness. This one room is for eating, sleeping; studying and living.
Outside, across a courtyard, is another small room with a "kitchen" - a small sink and counter - also crowded with a refrigerator provided by Goldberg. There is also a washing machine, which, however, must be rigged in such a way that when it's running it blocks the door. One can cook or wash, but not both at the same time.
There is no bathroom in either room. Rather, there is a facility outside, further down, and even this is not used exclusively by the family. It is shared with a yeshiva (i.e., with many other people). Should Ii child need the facilities on a typically cold, rainy, winter Jerusalem night, he has to go outside.
At some point - we're moving so fast, it's almost a blur - Goldberg points out the kitchen in another apartment. It's about six feet square, including the sink, counter and refrigerator. It has room for Qne person barely to turn around, hardly larger than some of the plastic toy kitchens my children have had.
Dovid Cohen is the fundraiser, administrator and driver. He lives off investments and devotes his life to this project. Chaim Goldberg is a scholar of the Talmud who studies until 4 p.m. and then begins his rounds. He lives a couple of levels above the people he helps, that's all. The two have known each other since childhood.
When Chaim Goldberg came to Israel 31 years ago, he felt, somehow, the minute he got off the plane that he was never going back. His father supervised some tzedakah funds in Chicago and, like many of us, was inundated with appeals from Israel, including poverty cases. He had no way of knowing the truth, so he asked his son to investigate. His son was on the scene. He'd know. Thus began this unique project.
Around Jerusalem, at the drop of Chaim Goldberg's name, one hears people saying, "That reminds me, I owe him $500." They mean they've promised him this sum for his work and still owe it.
I had to leave "the tour" early. It covered only three neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Goldberg and Cohen are active in' other Jerusalem neighborhoods and also in other cities in I8rael, including Bet Shemesh, Betar, Kiryat Sefer and Tifrach. A lot of the work outside Jerusalem is done on Friday.
"We are proud of the fact that every needy Jew, without regard to his ethnic origin and affiliation, is a potential recipient of our services," says Cohen.
"Our list includes Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews, kollel peopIe and those in the labor force, ba'alei teshuva and-converts, single-parent households and a host
of other down-and-outers."
The scope of the work now includes an annual caseload of more than 2,000 families; the .distribution of food coupons for chicken, fruits and vegetables; payment for exceptional medical or dental procedures not covered by National Health Insurance; in home domestic care; post-natal, post-hospital, mother-and-child convalescent care; repair of dilapidated apartments, including installation of indoor toilets; and the purchase of eight to 10 refrigerators and washing machines per month.
In a nutshell: "The more underprivileged families we discover, the greater is our determination to help."
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