The NYTimes is Worried About "Orthodox Jewish Beggars"

The Times should be wondering at Jewish generosity, not just worrying about those who ask for it.

Ronn Torossian

OpEds Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

Recently, The New York Times Magazine had an article entitled “The Beggars Of Lakewood” which I found to be a distorted depiction of the Hareidi-religious Jewish community of Lakewood, New Jersey.  

The article describes how the people of Lakewood do not turn anyone vetted as needy away. It could - and should - have been called “The Generous Givers of Lakewood.” Because this is a community of Torah scholars who, barring a few, are far from wealthy.

Instead, it focuses on those asking for funds. The piece uses the hackneyed stereotype of Jews as money-grubbing beggars – replete with a picture of a black hat surrounded by dollar bills.  Gross and intolerant.

Giving money to other Jews is part of who we are.
Are not all organized charities beggars?  Do charities not seek out the wealthy, ask them for donations and then give them awards? So why, when talking about those individual, needy Jews – who have been vetted and background checked in a tight-knit community – are they denigrated in one of the world’s largest media outlets?

To the Jews, Torah study, prayer and charity go hand in hand – and this is a long and very old tradition within the Jewish people. Giving money to other Jews is part of who we are - and this article sneers at Lakewood for being organized in a manner that protects the very many generous Jews who give charity. Having spent considerable time in this hareidi community, these Jews are charitable and do outstanding work for the sick, wounded, and indigent. 

The article says “Once a year, Elimelech Ehrlich travels from Jerusalem to Lakewood, N.J., with a cash box and a wireless credit-card machine,” and the “white-bearded, black-suited, black-skullcapped, wisecracking 51-year-old” is “a full-time beggar.”  Indeed, there are many "gemachs" (free-loan societies)  in Lakewood – and there’s good reason for people to be annoyed at times with  fundraisers who are inappropriate, but Jews give to other Jews. Charity is a defining Jewish trait, the Talmud says so clearly.

A few months ago, a friend, Herman Friedman, a member of the Satmar Hassidic community invited me to attend his son’s bar mitzvah.  At the celebration, I learned that all Satmar bar mitzvah parties are only held in Satmar’s Menucha V’Simcha Hall in Williamsburg or at a kehilla (congregational) hall in Kiryas Yoel. Regardless of one’s wealth or prominence, this is where the event will be held and this scenario allows everyone to feel comfortable and not to seek to out-do one another.

There are similar restrictions for weddings and other celebrations - and in today’s world of excess, this is a beautiful thing.  While my friend is a successful, well-off businessman, he like others in the community follow communal rules.  That is very special – and an excellent example of ultra-Orthodox caring and generosity.

There are many great stories like that in the religious Jewish community – including the fact that Jews from all over the world can go to New Jersey and be helped.  In today’s world, that should be lauded, not ridiculed.

This article's attitude was out of place because it did not stress the fact that every day, so many in the chareidi community do good deeds.

Of course, the author of this article, Mark Oppenheimer is the same one a few months ago who lauded Jewish-observant anti-Zionists, detailing someone whose “..Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel.”

And that is his latest articles on Orthodox Jews – beggars and Anti-Israel.