Friday, September 30, 2016

A Legitimate Charity's Deceptive Practices

Written message is unclear. Does the  Hebrew match the English translation?
In just a few days, the new year will be upon us. As most religious Jews know, this is a time of reflection and prayer.  The sages tell us that on the first day of the year, the heavenly decree with respect to the future of every single human being is written. The new year s also called the Yom HaDin - the day of judgment. We are judged in Heaven by God on how we have lived our lives over the past year. Our future depends on that. 10 days later, on Yom Kippur, the ‘written’ decree  is sealed. These 10 days are called the Aseres Yemei Teshuva – the ten days of repentance.

We appeal to God for mercy in judging us. Both individually and collectively. It is in fact God’s infinite mercy upon which we rely. Which is why in preparation for the new year we begin saying Selichos – prayers and supplications asking God not to judge us on our merit but to show us Divine mercy.  This is why most of us increase the amount of Selichos we say in the period between Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur. Usually in the morning before Shacharis – our daily morning prayers

Needless to say, for those of us serious about our Judaism this is a somber time. Not a time to celebrate with frivolity as is the case for most of the rest of the world on January first.

Our sages tell us that prayer is one of the three elements that we use to supplicate God for forgiving our transgressions and hopefully granting us a good year.  Another element is actual repentance - expressing regret and committing not to transgress them anymore. The third element is Tzedaka – giving charity.

Unfortunately there are unscrupulous people that take advantage of the latter. Which at this time of year seems to be particularly egregious. In what is probably the widest misuse of tactics for funding an otherwise a very worthy Tzedaka, Kupat Ha’ir seems to stop at nothing to generate funds.

What they have done now, just  few days before the new year is send out an ad (including a video) with a message that Rav Chaim Kanievsky will pray for you – IF – you give them money. (They have also said in his name that preferably people should give $180 per month to them.) From an ad on YWN:
If you give to this important cause, imagine the Rosh Hashanah that you will have, knowing that the gadol Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a is davening on your behalf...
What is well known about R’ Chaim and other rabbinic leaders is that they have said to never believe anything that is said in their name if they did not hear it directly from them. People lie or twist the words of a rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. They assume that since their agenda is supported by the people they lie about, anyway – why not tell a little white lie to enhance that support?

For me a lie is never acceptable just to raise funds – even for a worthy cause. Now they might rationalize this – knowing that R’ Chaim is an enthusiastic supporter of this charity who urges people to donate money to it – therefore justifying their means. But has he actually promised to specifically pray only for a list of people that have donated to Kupat Ha’ir? - I cannot believe this is the case. But even if it is, is that the way you raise money for charity?! By selling the side benefits?! 

You cannot justify a tactic that will cause others to give money they might not be able to afford; or might otherwise give to a different charity  - by using deceptive practices as leverage.

If you have a worthy cause - which I am told Kupat Ha’ir is - they should be urging people to support it based on its own merit only. Not by preying on religious people’s personal problems, fears or desires with promises to have great rabbis pray for  you – IF - you give them money.

This is not the first time Kupat Ha’ir has used the questionable fundraising tactic of preying on people’s fears. They have used versions of it for years. Decades perhaps! And have done much worse.  

Like promising young couples with infertility problems that a great rabbi or group of rabbis will pray for them. Or to promise Shiduchim to  unmarried young women or their parents, that giving them money will help their cause. Each time with a different twist. Like getting the ‘Gedolei HaDor’ to say Tehilim at the Kotel for 40 straight days. Or using some archaic ‘Segulah’ by some 18th century Chasidic Rebbe which requires a certain amount of money be given specifically to a charity like theirs for his Segulah to work.

Why do they keep doing it? The answer must be that it works. People keep giving them money – not necessarily for the sake of the charity itself but for the side benefits promised by it. Side benefits that are deceptively shown to work in ads by using testimonials from the few people that say it worked for them.  

I am not the only one to note this disgusting tactic. People much greater than I have noted it and condemned it. And yet it continues unabated.

How can this kind of thing be allowed to continue? True, the Tzedaka needs are great and money is in short supply. But does this justify deception? With all the bans coming out from rabbinic leaders in Israel, how can they not clearly and specifically ban the type of deception used by this charity?

This does not mean you should refuse to give them your charity dollars - or stop giving it to them if you have been doing so in the past. But it should be for the right reasons and because that is where you want your charity dollars to go. Not because you have been promised prayer on your behalf by a great rabbi if you do.