I really shouldn’t have a spot on the stories page of this website, because I’m not a zamler. But I thought you’d like to know more about why I created this site, and what I hope to accomplish.
Like many of you, I often go to Israel, and experience great joy at being able to be part of building the community there. I give money to charitable organizations here, and seek out people to help while I am there. It’s part of having a Jewish soul.
With travel down, and the economy in dire straits, life has become tougher in Israel. And I, and other American Jews, am not going there that often.
Over the years I’ve met a lot of people—tzaddikim—who go out of their way to help people in need. The country is full of them—people who care, and people who have sudden, unmet, urgent needs.
Our vast array of philanthropies do a good job of setting up programs, and alleviating chronic needs, and we have a lot to be proud of. But the past few years have been particularly hard, and many people who were not clients of charities suddenly find themselves in need. For some, it is do to the sudden loss of work. For others, it is due to a brush with attacks of terrorists—a sudden upset that turns life upside down.
You read the news—I don’t need to go into details.
Here, our lives go on, pretty much as normal. Sure, some of us are feeling an economic pinch, but for the most part, our lives are good. We go to each other’s houses for dinner, have parties, celebrate good occasions. And we generally get each other little gifts on these occasions. Gifts because it’s the polite thing to do—not because what we get is going to make a real difference in someone else’s life.
But half way around the world, little gifts help. It means having a meal, or not. It means buying shoes, or not. It means having transportation, or not. It means helping out with a utility bill, or a car repair, of fixing a washing machine, or even just buying flowers for someone who is down in the dumps about all that keeps happening. It means helping out, so that one small reversal in fortune doesn’t start a cycle of poverty where everything is lost.
And it’s easy to do--$5 here, $10 there, $25 even—it adds up, doesn’t diminish our lives any, and changes the world for people in need.
I got the idea from a visionary I read about—a non-Jew—who realized that people with a few dollars to spare, getting them to people who were a few dollars short, could create a community where people help out each other. But he set up a complicated system, with committees and reports, and such hassles, it was painful to read. So I thought I’d try to do something simpler. I paid to have the website created, printed up some postcards to mail to friends, and hope that people participate.
The zamlers I selected are people I know and trust. They have checkbooks, and as money comes in (deposited directly into the bank by the credit card clearing company), an email gets sent, letting them know how much is there, and they find people, write checks, and post the stories on the website, so you know where the money went.
No hassles, no committees, no complications—the money can literally be spent as soon as you make a donation, so while you have a good time here, someone over there gets help they need.
A popular Jewish summer camp song translates as: “A good deed generates another good deed; love generates love…” It’s more poetic in Hebrew, but in any language, it could have been written by Leslie Peiken, a teacher at Hillel Community Day School in Miami, Florida. For the past seven years, she’s been collecting loose change to send to the Chicken Lady of Jerusalem. So far, it’s totaled over $17,000. How does she do it? Simply by spreading the word about how a little bit of money every week goes a long way, when an entire school participates.
Who is the Chicken Lady, and why does she need this money? Twenty-one years ago, Clara Hammer, a retired schoolteacher living in Jerusalem, noticed a young girl ahead of her in the butcher shop receiving scraps of bones and thistle from the butcher. After the girl left, Clara commented: “It’s so nice of you to give those scraps to that girl—she must have a lot of pets to feed.” Replied the butcher: “It’s not for cats and dogs—it’s for her family. They have no money to buy meat, the father is disabled, and this at least she can mix with beans or in a soup for nourishment.” Horrified, Clara immediately ordered the butcher to give the girl two chickens a week, plus a pound of chopped meat, and to put it on her account every week. Most important, the butcher was not to tell the girl who her benefactor was.
Unfortunately, Clara had no budget for this, but she slowly spread the word of the need in the community, and donations trickled in. Now Clara feeds 711 people a week, (close to 200 families) nearly all of it anonymously, at the same butcher shop. (She hears of people in Tel Aviv and other towns, and sends them checks, so she cannot be anonymous to them.) As she hears of new families who cannot afford meat, she adds their name to the list. And Clara, now 92 years old, continues to spread the word, writes thank-yous to every donor, and look for more ways to help these families—school supplies, musical instruments, and clothing.
Leslie also spreads the word. Every time she’s ready to send money, she entrusts it to an emissary, who personally delivers it to Clara, sees the work, and presto!—another supporter. The most recent donation was brought by Esther and Marcos Fintz. Leslie accidentally found out that they were going to Israel, and approached them to take the money. Wouldn’t you know it—they met Clara, and fell in love! They also added some of their own money to the funds they were sent with. Now Esther and Marcos collect change to send as well. In fact, everyone to whom Leslie has entrusted the holy task of delivering money to Clara becomes a supporter and advocate for Clara’s cause. That is one factor that makes Leslie’s mitzvah so noteworthy of recognition—that by involving others in her work, she teaches the values she lives, and makes others aware of the opportunities.
Leslie started out small. Initially, her funds were generated by rental fees she charged students who asked to borrow a calculator or pencil when they forgot theirs. In her first year, she only raised $70. But when she incorporated teaching about Clara in her lessons on math, she drove the point home, and students gave voluntarily. Other teachers helped promote the cause, and collected funds as well. (Leslie was real insistent that I give credit to the entire faculty and student body.) Over the years, the size and frequency of the donations increased, and she now raises about $4,000 in a good year.
While what Leslie did is remarkable in its effect of people’s lives, it’s a simple thing to start anywhere. Merely identify a need, tell people about it, and slowly make progress in solving it. Believe passionately, show results, and communicate how easy it is to help. Anyone can do it if they try. Leslie will be the first to tell you that—she thinks she’s not do something extraordinary. If there were more people who did what she does, it wouldn’t be extra-ordinary—it would be ordinary, and we’d be better off.
We send money to the Chicken Lady from time to time.