The events of the last year and a half have given new poignancy to the
Talmud's contention that the Holy Land is something acquired through
hardship. The almost daily terrorist incidents have added an extra edge to
the already mind-numbing procedures of navigating governmental bureaucracies
and staying afloat during the current economic times. It seems that almost
everyone here in Israel needs a helping hand these days.
In the midst of this ongoing turmoil, David Morris is seeking to improve the
lives of his fellow Jews with the innovative concept of chesed (kindness)
networks. Instead of simply helping people through rough times with
handouts, Morris utilizes the talents of a broad cadre of community members
to help those in need get back on their feet. The Torah, he notes,
considers helping someone become self-sufficient to be the highest form of
"People don't open their fridge one day and discover it empty. Sad
situations occur over time and within a context," Morris says. "Providing
money for food is only a partial response; we aim to help at as many levels
Morris has already founded two organizations with his "network" concept.
The first, Yad Leyadid ("A Hand For A Friend") began six years ago, in
Pisgat Zev, a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem. The second, Lema'an
Achai ("For My Brothers' Sake" - email@example.com or 972-2-999-7107),
was started when Morris moved to the new religious suburb of Ramat Bet
Shemesh two and a half years ago.
Morris, an British immigrant, has a day job, as a marketer of
electro-optics; but he moonlights as a chesed powerhouse. Chesed, he says,
is the "family business." His mother won an award from Queen Elizabeth for
a similar charity organization she began in England's Harrogate community
many years ago.
Morris started his first organization after witnessing debt collectors
loading his neighbor's belongings onto a truck. He soon realized his
neighbor was far from alone; such repossessions are practically mundane
occurrences in contemporary Israel. "People literally run out of food here,"
he explains. "The welfare system only catches the bottom few percent, so
many, many others fall through the cracks."
By matching experts who offer their time gratis or at vastly discounted
rates with those in need, Lema'an Achai turns conventional charity into what
Morris calls "smart" chesed. Rashie Reichert, who volunteers for Lema'an
Achai, said that people "look at themselves differently when they're not
just opening their wallets, but are utilizing their strengths to help others
who can't do these things for themselves."
Morris explains that poverty can often stem from seemingly simple problems
with debts or mortgages. When these problems escalate, people need lawyers
to help them deal with the sometimes exasperating Israeli system. "In
Israel you can get taken to bankruptcy court, and be evicted or arrested for
bouncing a small check," Morris says, "There are defenses to help people
who deserve mercy."
In other cases, families need therapists to sort out family issues. "If one
pillar collapses the whole family can tumble," Morris points out.
Lema'an Achai utilizes the services of more than 100 volunteers who assist
the 150 families in need in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It sponsors free dental
clinics and a network of doctors and medical professionals who guide the
seriously ill through the medical system. The group also offers
professional care such as legal and financial consulting, social services,
therapy and tutors. They have arranged for grocery stores to provide free
food, discounts and deliveries to those living below the poverty line.
Recently the high-tech meltdown has caused even more people to call on the
services of Lema'an Achai. Families that once were donors are now among the
recipients. A Lema'an Achai social worker recently visited a once
comfortable family who finally decided to call after the children squabbled
over the last slice of bread in the refrigerator. "Helping people who don't
have what to put on their table is becoming a more common problem in
Israel," Morris says.
Along with providing a financial safety net for families, the "chesed
networks" also help protect children within the social welfare system. One
parent in Ramat Bet Shemesh who was provided with lawyers, rabbinic court
advisors, social workers, therapists and cash during a difficult period
considers Lema'an Achai "part of the family" for having helped salvage it
David Morris says that he has been fortunate through his work in Lema'an
Achai to witness several such success stories. "We do our share," he says,
"but we also see God's help in a very direct and visible way." Many times,
Lema'an Achai has been close to bankruptcy itself when a sudden large
contribution is received which tides them over for the next month. Once a
Russian immigrant family called in desperate need of a refrigerator; the
next phone call was from a family that was moving and who wanted to donate a
refrigerator. "We are often reminded," Morris says, "that we are in a holy
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Yehudah Poch is a journalist living in Israel. He also serves as a
consultant to various community and nonprofit organizations.]