Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bobbie’s Place

One of the reasons I focus on negatives is that it is the negatives that make the news. Negative news about the Orthodox Jewish community requires comment to counter the notion that this is the norm among Orthodox Jews.

The truth is however that anything that does make the news is by definition not the norm. The concept of ‘man bites dog’ reflects that idea. That is the classic definition of news - something out of the ordinary. We can take some solace in that. We are not a bad people. But we do have some bad apples and they are the ones who make the news.

Since ‘man bites dog' stories’ are the only ones that are reported, that is all people read. There must therefore be a public counter to it. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews are laws abiding citizens. Dog bites man is not news and will not be reported.

That’s what makes a story in the Wall Street Journal so extraordinary. It is not the norm. It is a Man bites dog story. But for a change it is a great Kiddush HaShem about Orthodox Jews. The headline is apt: Charity, Beautifully Disguised.

The Schick family is exemplary of the Midos all Jews should have. They have done a remarkable thing. They have created ‘Bobbie’s Place’ a ‘store’ that gives children’s clothing away free to those in need. It serves about 8500 children. But one would be hard pressed to see that it is anything other than a typical department store. It has changing rooms and checkout counters. People who walk into it remain with their dignity and even though they are getting charity, it doesn’t feel like it.

Avi Schick, - a successful attorney is also the grandson of Renee Schick founder of Schick’s Bakery in Boro Park (which still operates but which the family sold a while back). From the article:

"It looks and operates like a really nice store," said Mr. Schick, an attorney with the law firm of SNR Denton and chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. "The goal is that it never screams or even whispers charity."

Here is a description of the way the store operates:

It's almost a stage set: A sign on the frosted-glass front door says, "Welcome to Bobbie's Place." The shelves and racks are well stocked with brand-new merchandise. There are signs addressed to "Bobbie's Place shoppers," and changing rooms where one is given a number tag, like at the Gap, to keep track of the garments they're taking to try on. There's also a computerized checkout system that tallies children's purchases, and a telephone-answering system that greets callers in Persian, Russian, Hebrew and English.

The store operates with volunteers and has an annual budget of $650,000 which is funded by donations from ‘foundations, friends and family’. All the merchandise is new and bought – not donated – at a fraction of the retail cost.

‘Shoppers’ are vetted via a phone interview to determine need and vouched for by social workers or clergy.

This is the kind of ‘out of the norm’ story I wish there were more of. A true Kiddush HaShem. The Schicks are people that fulfill the Jewish mandate of being an Or LaGoyim - a ‘Light unto the Nations’.

What a way to give Tzedaka. My hat is off to this family. Renee Schick sure knew how to be raise her kids! We should all take a lesson from her.