In The News: Doing Chesed Smarter

Date: May 29 2014
Publication: The Jewish Link
Author: Elizabeth Kratz
Teaneck—Everyone knows the prov­erb that we have to teach the man to fish, not just give him the fish. “But, if you don’t feed him while he’s learning, he’ll starve,” said Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, executive direc­tor of Lema’an Achai. Leventhal visited Te­aneck and Bergenfield last week in an effort to raise awareness about the 14-year-old Beit Shemesh-based chesed organization, which seeks to turn on its head the traditional no­tions of charity and tzedakah. Started by Oleh David Morris, Rabbi Leventhal joined the or­ganization when he made aliyah from Balti­more in 2005.

As an example of its “smart chesed” ap­proach, Leventhal shared a story in Congrega­tion Ohr HaTorah about a man named Shmu­el, who worked in a warehouse as a stockboy making very little money—certainly not enough to support his family with three chil­dren. He came to Lema’an Achai with a mas­sive water bill, asking for tzedakah. “Instead of simply giving him money for the bill, we in­vested in his future,” Leventhal said.

To enable him to pay future water bills, Leventhal said that Lema’an Achai was able to seek a way for him to train for a better position in the same warehouse as a forklift driver. He needed assistance in changing his hours with his employ­er and needed funds for training, but to­day he is not only a forklift operator, but a manager. “We gave him what he needed to reach his potential. He doesn’t need our help anymore. Now, when he comes back to Lema’an Achai, he’s a donor.”

“This is the cutting edge of chesed. Clas­sic tzedakah is handouts, when you give people clothing and money. It helps peo­ple for a moment, but it’s a band-aid. It per­petuates poverty,” Leventhal continues.

Using a variety of financial, education­al, legal, and social strategies that are part their three-pronged approach of direct aid, rehabilitation, and empowerment, “Lema’an Achaim aims to bring people through and out of crisis. It’s a team ef­fort, building long-term treatment plans,” he said.

With 35 programs and projects in place to meet a variety of chesed needs, Lema’an Achai has a professional staff of 14, com­prising both part- and full-time psycholo­gists, counselors, financial planners, law­yers, and even a team of dentists. There are also 350 volunteers, a number that grows on a regular basis. In addition to local chesed work, the organization is in­volved in national chesed projects. They are involved in the homefront command and in helping people who are fleeing dangerous areas. “We were also very in­volved in the Gush Katif expulsion,” Lev­enthal said.

Bergen County is a welcoming place for Leventhal to bring his message of smart chesed. “Many former Bergen Coun­ty residents who have made aliyah are involved as supporters. Some of the or­ganization’s current and former board members are Bergen County expats, in­cluding Jack Wimpfheimer, an Oleh who was a longtime president and treasurer of Lema’an Achai.

“And we have been able to assist some Bergen County residents in Israel who have fallen upon hard times,” said Leventhal. While no one should think this could ever happen to them, “it’s good to know there is a safety net.”

Leventhal shared that Lema’an Achai also enjoys strong endorsements from sev­eral area rabbeim, including Rabbis Sobolof­sky, Rothwachs, Stavsky, Pruzansky, and Weinberger. The organization also has close parallels with the work being done locally at Project Ezrah, said Leventhal, and he hopes that as Lema’an Achai’s presence grows in Te­aneck and Bergenfield, there will be opportu­nities for Project Ezrah and Lema’an Achai to work together.

Lema’an Achai was recently given a par­cel of land by the Israeli government to build a building, and is open to sponsorship and dedication opportunities. American Friends of Lema’an Achai is a not-for-profit 501c(3). Learn more at http://www.smartchesed.org.

 
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