| Double Take |

Charitable Allowance

Why was a charity case jetting off on vacation?
Gila: Think of all the people supporting you and your family with charity. Why would you do something so irresponsible?
Basya: It’s hard enough to struggle financially every day. Please don’t judge me for what I do for my husband and family.



My niece Basya doesn’t have it easy. Full-time job, full-time mother, full-time housewife, and a husband who hasn’t held down a solid job in maybe six years.

Oh, I don’t think it’s for lack of trying. Tully’s a nice guy, if a little socially lacking. When they were newly married, and he learned in kollel, they seemed very happy. She had a nice job, they lived in a little dollhouse-sized apartment, and even with one baby, two, it worked.

But now they have a growing family, kein ayin hara. Tully left kollel when their third child was born, and for a while he worked in a store, but that closed down and left him without a job and without very much professional experience. So they got by — Basya took on more hours, they managed to stretch a little longer in their tiny apartment — but eventually, it wasn’t working anymore.

Tully tried his hand at a couple of business ventures here and there — short-term things, esrogim for Succos, matzos for Pesach. Some seemed to do okay, others failed dismally, leaving them with piles of debt on top of everything else. My sister, Basya’s mother, confided in me one day that she didn’t know what the couple would do.

“They literally can’t manage in that tiny apartment anymore,” she told me worriedly. “As it is, Miri and Fraidy sleep in the dining room, and Moishy is going to need a room soon, too. But I don’t think they’re even managing to pay the rent as it is. Basya’s already working far too hard, and they have no cleaning help or anything... I wish Tully could get a job. Maybe Heshy knows of something available?”

My husband Heshy was a successful mortgage broker, but it wasn’t as if he owned a business and could offer Tully a job.

“I’ll ask him,” I told Chana, not wanting to turn her down.

Privately, I wondered if we could do anything to help Basya out. Heshy gave a chomesh to tzedakah each month; didn’t family come first for these things?

When I spoke to Heshy, he agreed 100 percent. “We just have to figure out how to give without embarrassing them,” he said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out,” I said. “Maybe we could somehow cover some of their debt without them knowing it’s us? And how about I offer her some cleaning help? And some of the neighbors for sure have kids clothing that they don’t need anymore. I’ll ask them if I can offer it to her, make as if she’s doing them the favor — you know how everyone’s going minimalist these days, trying to get rid of their extra junk. And then there’s the organizations I help out with, I’m sure we can get some of them involved, on the side...”

“My wife, the philanthropist,” Heshy teased.

I laughed. I did do a lot of volunteering — for Bikur Cholim, Tomchei Shabbos, meals-on-wheels — but it wasn’t on the philanthropy end of things; although we had a good income, baruch Hashem, we weren’t plaque-level donors. Still, we did what we could, and situations like Basya’s made me realize just how much I really had to be grateful for.

My niece was shocked — and overjoyed — when I offered her some cleaning help one Monday afternoon.

“I have Sonya all day, and honestly, there isn’t so much to do at the beginning of the week,” I explained. “I was talking to your mother, and she mentioned how busy you are, so I figured you could do with a couple hours’ cleaning help.”

“That’s an understatement.” Basya sounded frazzled. “Fraidy, no! Don’t wake the baby. Miri, come get your lunches. Gila, you’re a doll, I wish I could take you up on it... just, you know, how much does she charge per hour?”

“Are you kidding, Basya? I’m paying her. Don’t worry, it’s a favor for me. I need to fill her time because otherwise she’ll go off to someone who will give her more hours. So, can I send her for two hours this afternoon?”

“Can you? Oh, my gosh. It would be a dream. Just tell me what time so I can schedule around it.”


I began sending Sonya over once a week or so. It was such an easy way to help out, and honestly, since Rafi went away to yeshivah, there’s just less to clean up around here. Funny how much mess one teenager can make.

One week, I sent Sonya over with a bag of beautiful baby clothes. My neighbor was giving these away. Would they be good for Moishy?

She didn’t have to know that I personally spoke to a bunch of neighbors, carefully selected the nicest options, and even threw in a couple of brand-new outfits that I’d bought.

She texted me a day later. Sorry didn’t get back to you earlier. It’s been nuts. The clothes are gorgeous. Thank your neighbor!

Heshy also managed to find out who their landlord was and insisted on paying up the unpaid rent, on condition that he wouldn’t let on who the donor was. My sister Chana thanked me for helping out and mentioned that she was happy that the community seemed to be stepping in to help Basya.

“She got some voucher for the toy store — the kids were over the moon. And the school backed down about the tuition, they reduced the fees even more,” she told me, relieved. “I’m just relieved that they’re getting some help. It was really difficult for us, knowing that they’re struggling, but really not able to help them out.”

Chana and her husband, Meir, were both in chinuch. They lived frugally, and though they helped out their children when they could, it wasn’t often.

“That’s great news,” I said. What I didn’t tell her was that we were the ones behind the voucher and that Heshy had arranged for several donors to cover the tuition shortfall. I didn’t want my sister — or my niece — to feel uncomfortable or indebted to me, so I tried to keep my involvement as quiet as possible.

Still, somehow, Heshy and I became the port of call when people wanted to help out. Tully and Basya finally moved to a new, bigger apartment — and the rent was a constant source of anxiety. Basya confided in me about it when we spoke once about the cleaning help — by now, Sonya was regularly spending her “spare time” there, all on my cheshbon — and this time, I offered directly to help out.

“You know, I have some contacts in a few organizations,” I said carefully. “It’s very confidential, but they really can help out. If you’d like, I could reach out to some of them…”

Basya sighed. “Honestly, a few months ago I would have said never. But… it’s really hard. The other day, I needed to get groceries, just basics, bread, milk, fruit… and I couldn’t. I had a paycheck coming in a few days later, in the end I figured it out, but — we’re really having a hard time.”

I knew about it, of course. My sister, Basya’s mother, had filled me in. Apparently, Tully was working on another venture, which seemed reasonably promising (or at least, not too high-risk) but in the meantime, all their cash was tied up. Not that they had ever had much to spare — I suspected that most of the investment was borrowed.

“Just please don’t tell anyone from the family,” Basya said. “Tully would be mortified if people knew. Let’s… keep it between us, okay?”

My heart went out to her. Basya was dealing with so much.

“Of course,” I assured her. “You can count on me.”

Heshy and I reached out to some of our contacts: his, from the business world, mine, from the organizations I work with. We were able to fundraise a nice amount, plus I arranged for discreet grocery deliveries every other week. Basya was always grateful, but she didn’t offer much more information about their financial situation. I assumed she was a little embarrassed and kept our conversations to other topics after that.

And then Aunt Edith passed away.

Aunt Edith was my aunt — Basya’s great-aunt. She’d been a widow for years, never had children, and we’d grown up on rumors that Edith and Sol were “secretly very well-off,” although nothing about their lifestyle was extravagant.

Still, she left behind a sizeable inheritance, with instructions to divide it between her nieces and nephews, as well as our children. Chana and I — her only nieces — received a nice amount each, and our children each received something around $15,000.

For us, the inheritance came at a providential time. A business venture had come up, and Heshy was seriously considering investing in it — but we’d needed a substantial sum of money, and we were reluctant to dig into our savings. This was an unexpected boon.

I wondered what Basya would do with the windfall. Goodness knows they owed at least double as much money in debts accrued over the years. But maybe they would invest it wisely, use it to generate passive income for the future? Rent, tuition, bills, they needed that money, probably more than any of us did. For them, such a sum must be a huge deal.

I mentioned that to my sister when we spoke, but to my surprise, she didn’t have much to say. “Yes, it’s a big brachah, they’re very grateful,” she said, a little guardedly.

A few days later, I found out why.

Instead of replying to my text — Sonya’s available tomorrow or Wednesday morning — Basya called me.

“Tomorrow would be great,” she said, breathlessly — she was probably walking to work. “I just wanted to tell you, I won’t need her for the next two weeks after that. We— we’re going away. Tully and I and the whole family.”

“Oh, that’s so nice!” I enthused. This must be their first vacation since — what, shanah rishonah? “Where are you going?”

She gave a self-conscious cough. “Actually — um, well, Tully found cheap tickets — and we’re going to Israel.”


With the kids.

For two weeks.

Heshy and I have done it, of course. Not during the kollel years, but once Heshy was doing well, baruch Hashem, we took the kids on a trip there one summer. Still, it wasn’t something we’d do every other month — or even every year. We travel there together every so often, we took Rafi for his bar mitzvah, and I visited each of the girls during seminary year, but that wasn’t the same as flights, hotels, accommodation, food, touring for an entire family.

“Can you imagine?” I said to Heshy later, shaking my head. “They must be spending their entire part of the yerushah on this!”

He shrugged. “It’s their choice, Gila. I wouldn’t call it such a responsible choice, but still — it’s their money.”

“But they take tzedakah money!” I countered. “We give to them all the time! I pay for their cleaning help! And now…”

“They didn’t have the money until now,” Heshy said, being impossibly logical. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t reacting to this. He was paying part of their rent, for goodness’ sake.

“But now they do,” I said. “They should use it on necessities instead of blowing it on some luxury trip.”

Heshy gave a wry smile. “Which necessities, Gila? How many months’ rent could they cover with that inheritance? Bills? Groceries? A new sheitel, one season’s clothing for the kids? It would’ve been gone in a few months, maximum.”

“Okay, but those few months are being paid for by the community.”

I wasn’t the only one upset, either. A few days later, I got a call from the Tomchei Shabbos coordinator, delicately asking me why the family I’d insisted needed tzedakah groceries was taking a two-week vacation in Israel. News travels fast, I guess. How did she even know?

Next, Heshy reluctantly told me a friend of his, one of the regular donors to our unofficial tzedakah fund for Basya’s family, had been in contact. He wanted to know if maybe this Israel trip was an emergency of some kind and why Heshy had been so insistent that the family didn’t have a penny to spare. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to help out, it just was upsetting to have thought he was supporting people who were really in dire need, and then hearing that those same recipients were enjoying a luxurious trip abroad. After all, he himself had never taken his family to Israel — and he certainly wouldn’t take money from others to go on such a vacation!

The situation was sticky, and while we explained it as best as we could, it was hard when we — or at least, I — felt hurt, too.

It hurt when Basya sent me pictures of the Kosel, the Dead Sea, the beach. “Kids are having the time of their lives!!!!”

It hurt when we shelled out money toward their rent, like we did every month, knowing that they were living it up in the North of Israel.

And yes, it hurt when Basya came back, bubbling over with stories and pictures and the stuff they’d done — and happily asked me when Sonya was free again.

Maybe I don’t have the best middos, but it rankled. How could she take and take and take from us, from friends, from the community — many of whom could never spare the money for a trip like that for themselves — and then spend her own money so flippantly and irresponsibly?

If I could tell Basya one thing: We give so much to support your family financially; it hurts to see you splurge on a luxury that we wouldn’t even treat ourselves to.



Aunt Edith was my great-aunt — my grandmother’s sister — but Tully was the one who went to the meeting with the lawyer, together with my mother, my brothers, my sister Shevi, my aunt and uncle, and three of my cousins.

I couldn’t go, of course. I had work — and before work, I had the kids to take care of, and after work, I had supper to make and the house to clean and the baby and homework and kids and Shabbos to prepare. Tully, who was perpetually between jobs — he had the time to meet with inheritance lawyers.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I work very hard on not feeling bitter. But honestly? It’s hard. I often feel like I take care of everything, shouldering the burdens of home, kids, family, a job — and also tiptoeing around my husband, who feels terrible about his failure to provide for the family.

Financially, we were living so tight, it had almost become unbearable. Luckily, we had started getting some help here and there — someone sent over used baby clothing in great condition, the girls’ school agreed to reduce the tuition even further, I even agreed to have my aunt Gila arrange for some chesed organization to send over groceries. (It took me a few weeks before I had the guts to tell Tully, and even that, only after he asked me how we could afford so many “extras” like duck sauce. Extras!)

“You try cooking with zero time, zero help, and zero ingredients!” I snapped back.

But after he left the room, I felt terrible. Here he was, spending day after day desperately trying to find a job, feeling like a failure with every rejection, and I was his wife. I should have been his cheerleader, his support. It felt like a constant cycle in our relationship these days: He would try take the reins, I would snap, he would look all wounded and sad, and then I was left feeling guilty. But seriously? He was constantly badgering me about the costs of stuff (I guess he had time to take apart grocery receipts; I definitely didn’t), and I was the one working crazy hours and balancing everything just to make ends meet — or at least, stop them from stretching even further apart. I just had no time to deal with having long complicated conversations now.

That was the problem: There was no time. No time, no money, no space. And our relationship was the first casualty.

Later that night, when I was wiping down the counters and Tully came to scrounge for a snack, I bit my tongue and said nothing.

“You want?” he asked, holding out a package of cookies that I’d been saving for the kids’ Shabbos treat.

“No,” I said, through gritted teeth. “And by the way, if you’re wondering why I spent extra money on that — we got it for free, and I was saving it for Shabbos.”

Tully’s eyes clouded over, and he slowly replaced the package. “What do you mean, got it for free?”

“The duck sauce, too. We get deliveries. Tomchei Shabbos.”

I turned my back on him, started on the floor. In a way, I was happy to just have this out in the open, but why did I have to watch his reaction? The embarrassment, the feelings of failure, the constant negativity that kept getting between us. But instead of reacting to what I’d revealed, Tully slumped down on a chair near the door and dropped his own bombshell: Apparently, ever since we’d moved, an anonymous donor was paying part of our rent.

My mouth dropped open. “Someone paying our rent? But how do they even know— How does the landlord—”

“He told me. I don’t know how they did it, okay? Just — Mr. Yaniv told me we can pay less because it’s being subsidized. But he can’t tell me who.”

“Oh.” This was… a lot to process.

“It must be one of our parents,” he continued, trying to turn the conversation to safer ground. “I just don’t know why they’re staying anonymous about it…”

“If it’s mine, I know why,” I said automatically. “They don’t help out the other married children, and they wouldn’t want anyone to compare.”

“None of the others need it like we do,” Tully muttered, his face red.

I bit my lip. Frankly, a few months ago I would’ve been mortified to know that our rent was being subsidized behind our backs. But now, I was just overwhelmingly relieved.

So with my job, the help we received from various places, and Tully’s occasional successful foray into the working world, we struggled through each month. We still had debt — lots of it, from business ventures gone wrong, from money we borrowed out of desperation and had no way to return — but at least for the time being we were getting by. At least, financially we were — every so often, I entertained the fleeting idea of doing something to work on our marriage, maybe counseling, maybe just going out together, spending time… but with my hectic schedule, the constant pressure of the bills, and Tully’s retreating further into himself with every job rejection, I just didn’t have the wherewithal to make it happen. For goodness’ sake, I was the one doing everything else in our home.

Then Aunt Edith passed away and left an inheritance to be divided between all of us cousins, and our parents.

I didn’t place too much hope in it, to be honest. What would Aunt Edith have left us, a couple thousand dollars?

“You never know,” Tully said hopefully, as he left for the meeting. “Maybe she was a secret millionaire.”

“Yeah. And maybe she left us her pet cat,” I said pessimistically. What was the point of getting our hopes up for nothing?

I was shocked — and excited — when Tully greeted me after work waving a piece of paper, excitement written all over his face.

“I was right! Ha!”

“Whaaa—” I nearly dropped my keys. “What, what, what? Why didn’t you call me? What is it? She was a millionaire? We’re rich?”

“Your phone was off. I tried to call. No, she wasn’t a millionaire, but she left a nice amount, $14,600 for us, to be specific. Before taxes.”

Fourteen thousand dollars. That was… more money than we’d ever touched. Every penny we owned was spent before it even entered the bank account.

Still, it wasn’t millions by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if we used it toward our debts — which was the obvious decision — it wouldn’t even get us out of the red. But what else to do with it? Pay up tuition? Use it to cover a few months’ rent?

I really, really want a new sheitel, I thought wistfully. I’d replaced my weekday sheitel with a cheap off-the-shelf sale one a few years ago — and let’s face it, it could definitely do with replacing too — but for Shabbos I was still wearing the sheitel I’d bought when we got married.

Tully was looking at me with light in his eyes. I hadn’t seen him so happy in — months. Maybe years.

“What should we do with the money?” I asked, wondering what he was thinking.

He jumped at the question. “Listen, Basya, I know it’s… unusual, and you’ll probably want to use it to help sort out our finances but, let’s be real. It’s not going to get us anywhere with our debts, and if we put it to our everyday expenses, it’s just going to disappear.”

My heart thudded to my toes. No. No way. He was going to suggest using it for a business venture, investing every last penny in another one of those doomed-to-disaster grand schemes that left us with empty pockets and acrid failure in our mouths, again. I couldn’t handle it, not another business idea, not another amazing deal that landed us still further in debt and with reams of useless merchandise that we couldn’t afford to store or dispose of.

But Tully’s idea, when he told me, was almost worse.

“Take… the family… to Israel?” I squeaked. “But, but that’s a fortune. I can’t — how could I miss work? And what about school? The kids?”

“Chanukah,” he said. “We’ll go for Chanukah. So you’ll take off work. You haven’t taken off a single day in almost two years. And I looked up flights and hotels, we can cover it all, plus have some money for touring, if we book a good package deal.”

He looked so hopeful, he was almost pleading with me. “Please, Basya, I think we need it. When have we ever gone away as a family? The kids don’t go to sleepaway camp, we don’t even go to the country, because you have work, work, work. They wear secondhand clothing, our apartment — even the new one — is smaller than their friends’ houses, and Miri and Fraidy are not so young anymore. They need to feel good, feel special, feel like we can afford to treat them.” He swallowed. “Besides, I want to treat you, too.”

I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear to watch $14,600 go down the drain like that, when we needed it so badly. And yet… and yet… I couldn’t bear to shatter Tully’s dreams, either.

He needed this, I realized. He needed it so badly. He needed to feel like the man of the house, the provider. And he was right, the girls were suffering. Fraidy was constantly asking for new shoes, a knapsack like her friends had, ballet lessons. Worse, Miri never asked for anything at all, and I once heard her whispering to Fraidy, “Don’t ask Mommy, she’ll feel bad that we can’t afford it.”

We didn’t live in the wealthiest neighbourhood, but standards of living these days were so high, every other kid in their class was off to Florida or wherever for vacation. Sleepaway camps were the norm, not the exception. Children’s Shabbos dresses cost $150.

Tully was right. We could put the money in the bank, and it would disappear within a couple months — we’d be back to square one. Or we could invest it — yes, invest it — in our children’s future, in our flailing shalom bayis, in his feelings and our family memories.

He needed it. We needed it. And I… I needed it, too.

I realized that only after we arrived. Only after I sank into the fresh hotel linen, realizing that for the first Monday morning since I went back to work after Moishy was born, I didn’t need to get up for work in the morning. The hotel provided breakfast, and what a breakfast it was. I hadn’t eaten a breakfast like that since — what, sheva brachos week? And even then, I’d been the one to prepare and serve it.

We toured. We ate. We took pictures. We spent time together. I saw Miri relax and blossom, and I watched the light in Fraidy’s eyes as she enjoyed herself. Even the little kids seemed happier than usual — maybe because Tully and I were?

The biggest difference of all was Tully. He was a changed person, overnight. Dealing with the luggage, the check-in, the hotel. Sitting in restaurants, summoning the waitress over to bring “the biggest milkshakes you can make!” while the girls giggled delightedly. One night, we even got my sister-in-law in seminary to babysit, and we went to the Old City together, posing for pictures like newlyweds and wonder of wonders, enjoying each other’s company for the first pressure-free time in years. Suddenly, I felt like there was hope for us — for our marriage, for us as a couple, a family. That we could get to a good place again.

I felt a twinge, yes, thinking of all that money, and especially when I thought of the sheitel I would’ve loved to finally buy myself. But this trip was worth every penny, and besides, I was doing the right thing. This is for my family. This is for shalom, I kept reminding myself.

And then we landed.

We landed and collided head-on with reality.

“The tuition committee called today,” Tully reported one evening, darkly. “They had a problem with our vacation. Said they need to reassess things based on our ‘current financial reality.’ ”

“Whaaat?” I threw my pocketbook onto the table. It opened, and a wad of old receipts spilled out, together with a few dimes. “You must be joking. Did you explain to them that it was a one-off, we don’t have this kind of money regularly…”

“I tried, but I think you should speak to them. They don’t listen to me.” He scowled, and I saw the familiar hurt in his eyes.

I sighed. Calling the tuition committee was the last thing I wanted to do. How would I even explain the necessity of this trip to them?

“It’s not as if the money would have gone to them, anyway,” I said. “We have debts.”

“I don’t think they care,” Tully said. He was sprawled out on the couch, avoiding my eyes. “I hate when people talk and jump to conclusions and make all these comments. ‘Oh, I heard you went to Israel with the family, you must be doing well!’ ”

I knew. I knew all about it. But for me, it wasn’t the comments, it was the silences. The long pauses where friends, or neighbors, or even my aunt Gila would stop and then say, slowly, “Oh. So nice. I’m so happy for you.” But their expressions, and their words, were cold.

I got it. They thought it was strange, knowing something about our financial reality. Gila, for one, knew that we needed help, knew that we received Tomchei Shabbos deliveries and had old debts. Some of my friends and relatives had been really helpful with sending over their kids’ outgrown clothing and stuff, as well. But they couldn’t be happy for us when something went well? They couldn’t fargin, or understand, that even in dire financial straits, a family’s emotional health, well-being, and shalom bayis might be the top necessity? That maybe, just maybe, there were pieces of the puzzle that they didn’t understand?

I heaved another deep sigh. “Remind me to call the tuition guy later,” I called over my shoulder, heading to the kitchen to boil up pasta for supper.

“They won’t get it,” Tully mumbled. He was talking about the committee, but he could’ve been talking about everyone, all the judging, staring, questioning people out there.

“I know,” I said.

If I could tell Aunt Gila and the community one thing: Please don’t judge me for doing what’s right for my husband and family — even at the expense of future help… and my reputation.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 888)

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