urim morning. I hear the Megillah just after dawn and return to a house enwrapped in sweet, slumbering silence.
A rustle. A rattle of the front door. I turn, and I see a white envelope appearing under the door. I snatch it up, finger the smooth paper. And then I open it.
What’s money? A few green papers, usually soggy, with the face of some long-gone politician in the center. It’s the fodder that keeps Visa sponsoring shoes, clothing, and food. It’s the pillar that holds up the roof over my head.
I used to hold a top-level position in my office. I did well. Hardly did I need to even sully myself with hand-to-hand dollars. My earnings rolled into the bank, from where they rolled further, like well-oiled cogs, into my mortgage, tuition, and expenses accounts. Thus covered, I was able to focus my energies on worthier pursuits, like giving to others.
I found peace in sharing what I had with others, and I gave unquestioningly. My family, too, benefited from the bounty, enjoying a well-appointed house, fine clothes, and vacations. My children knew that I saved for their future. They were securely ensconced in their father’s generosity.
But then, like a snake shedding its skin, the market expelled me from my job, for newer, younger, sleeker men. My finances screeched and collided head-on with myself.
Now unemployed, I attempted to stay afloat. I invested the savings hidden away for my children’s weddings into a brand-new venture. I poured the years of solid business expertise I brought with me into this promise of hope. But within a year this, too, had bottomed out. I was left penniless, with a tidy pouch of debt on the side. Once a man who’d spurred an entire office wing of operations into action, I now commandeered rows and columns of liabilities in red ink.
What followed was a year of transformation. I learned a couple of things. Namely: the bank manager is friendly only to the people whose money he adores. Credit is extended to those who earn it. A mortgage can only be in overdraft for so long before the house goes into foreclosure. And a family needs food.
And so, my dreams — and my life — were invaded by monsters. A continuous stream of letters in the mail informed me of my inevitable eviction. Where would my family go? Educational institutions, though generously granting me a scholarship in recognition of the years I’d given to them, demanded the minimum pay — which inflated each year like over-risen dough.
My wife and children needed food. They didn’t ask for fish, meat, snacks and juice. They asked for bread, for milk, for the electricity to cook a pot of spaghetti.
The question mark called money loomed large, heavy, and helpless in my field of vision. Should I scrounge for food? Where would we find shelter if my home became bank property? Should I beg people for help? The question of how to cover my family’s basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter was most stressful.
The worthlessness that robes a man who loses not only his profession but the ability to provide hugged me close, terribly close. My body willed me to mope around in house slippers, as day slipped into night into day into night. Somehow, I resisted.
“Moping is not an option,” I told myself each day. So I got out of the house, went to shul, davened and learned. I begged Hashem, in the broken voice of those whom Hashem brings close to Him, to help me. “You are the One who gives. Please, please provide.”
And then, the shul emptied as men went to work, to teach, to learn. What of me? Should I return home? What would I do there?
Instead, I volunteered. I had no money to give, but I had time aplenty. I could donate it to help others. Instead of giving in to the feelings of lethargy that accompany helplessness, I helped others. In times of challenge, we often feel excused not to give to others. But it is precisely then that we need to reach beyond ourselves. Volunteering gave me a purpose. It put me back in the giving sector of society, even if my home life was disintegrating around me.
I rubbed a smile into my sagging lips and attempted to keep the home atmosphere aloft. Each family is a unit; each person affects the other’s mood. I wanted us all to be happy. If they got no money, at least my family deserved a smile. I valiantly pumped my mood.
I spoke candidly to the kids. Children are human beings with the right to know what’s happening in their lives. They didn’t need to know the fine print, but they did need the basic facts. It would give them strength even when I didn’t have strength to give. My family stood at my side, together.
The day came, when our possessions were placed on the curb, and the keys to our house seized. Tables, chairs, beds, and lamps shivered, exposed, under the bare sky. There was nowhere to go. My family was homeless.
We found shelter in our old car. My dearest family, who kept together and looked up at me trustingly, was now huddled together, on the longest road trip to nowhere. At night, we parked in a corner lot. By day, we drove.
It couldn’t continue.
We found a chassan-kallah apartment. For two weeks, we were human again. Those two weeks zipped by too fast. Each day pooled into the next, and soon it was three weeks, and we were still sticking it out. What would motivate us to leave, taking my family back into our cramped car?
But Mr. Tish, the owner of the apartment had a chassan and kallah booked for the next week. And with his keen sense of smell, he got wind that the family staking out in his hachnassas orchim had nowhere to go. He needed us out. And yet, he was kind enough not to throw us out into the cold.
In needing to move me out of his apartment, Mr. Tish made a phone call to a local askan. That phone call led to a quiet but significant effort.
The community sprang into action. A local businessman was contacted and a request was made to get me an interview for the very next day. Things moved so quickly that events seemed to blur into each other. The position was a far cry from my past jobs, yet what were my options? Think quickly. Go to the interview. Wait by the phone. Moments seemed like eternity. Eternity seemed like moments. My cell phone rang. I had the job! We were on the way back up.
The ball was rolling. We were outfitted with a small apartment. Negotiations were conducted with schools and my children were learning once again. Food packages arrived on our doorstep. We could live.
It wasn’t easy to take. Where I had once pulled the purse strings, I now had to open them wide for the jingle of donations. I had to bend my head to the will of Hashem and accept my place on the taking side of the spectrum. But my family was surviving, even starting to thrive, by the grace of generous people. It was what had to be done.
Klal Yisrael came through in such a beautiful way. I was given support in a dignified manner, and every effort was made to protect my family’s privacy. The people who helped me believed in me — “This will pass,” they told me. They were there to hold my hand and see me through this difficult patch. Things would get better. They were there only to hold my hand and see me through.
I was a Yid in need, like any other Yid who needed help — with shidduchim, health, or children. And so, I got what I needed to see me through the darkest neck of the woods. I took it. It was what Hashem wanted me to do.
And now I stand, Purim morning, holding an envelope of cash. This year, no collectors knocked on my door through the night, to be offered a glass of wine and a nice donation. The revelry is gone.
But it has been replaced. By a check that will take us through to the matzos and wine of Pesach. By an understanding that every Yid has needs and difficulties, and that it is the responsibility of the klal to be there, supporting each other. By the humility that comes of knowing that status and standing can so easily slip away.
But there’s something else, too.
Serenity. Because now I know that whatever Hashem’s decree — whether the goodness is apparent, or obscured by a mask of harshness — I can live up to what He wants of me.
Names and identifying details have been changed.
Story of a Schnorrer
I’m here, as you open the door. Your heart sinks as you see me; you have other things on your mind, other uses for your money than giving to the collector, waving a tattered letter.
But please, allow me a few minutes of your time.
Back home, I’m a dignified person with a job, a family, and status. I’m just as human as you. When I collect, I usually look run-down and dejected. Collecting does that to people. Please treat me with respect.
For a start, do open the door. I’m walking up and down the streets in subzero weather. A warm word, a warm drink, and a warm smile are donations to my flagging spirit. And if you don’t have a donation, don’t leave me waiting — tell me. My time is money. I usually collect in a place where I won’t be identified, far from my family. I’m trying to get home as soon as possible.
I’ll bring you a letter of approbation from several rabbanim, explaining the severity of my situation. But believe me; if I came all the way to your door, to hold out my hand for a donation, I’m pretty desperate. You can trust your money is going to good places.
If I come with a story of personal sorrows, listening to the details is kind of you. Please do so with compassion and without intruding into my privacy by asking unnecessary and demeaning questions.
I, too, hoped I’d never have to rely on the kindness of others. When you give to me, please do it with the attitude of “this too shall pass.” Don’t see me as a condemned schnorrer. I don’t see myself so. I see myself as a friend, a Jewish brother, who is extending a plea in time of need, and, when I can, will gladly reciprocate.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 282)
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