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When that man knocks on your door asking for tzedakah, he’s at the tail end of a long trail. And there’s a whole lineup of people who’ve played roles behind the scenes to get him to your doorstep. Who are these little-known players along the tzedakah trail, and what role do they play in the odyssey of risk, shame, loneliness, and neediness that today’s collector knows so well?
Monday, September 16, 2013
The Travel Agent
Most collectors start their global odyssey with a prosaic phone call to their local heimishe travel agent. Reb Yitzchok Ginsberg, a freelance agent for Ideal Tours who says at least 30 percent of his clientele are fundraisers, has helped many newbie collectors take their first tentative steps. He says that the busiest seasons in the collecting business are ironically those times when every family man wants to be home — Elul to Yom Kippur, and Purim. But those are also the times when hearts are most generous and hands are most giving.
Ginsberg has clients of all ages and stages — the seasoned fundraisers who know every seat on the plane and arrange their own upgrades, and embarrassed newcomers who can’t believe they’re resorting to schnorring to pay off their financial obligations.
“One of my regular clients used to work as a mashgiach, but salary cuts whittled down his pay to just above minimum wage, nowhere near enough to support his family. The first time he called me to book a ticket, he was ready to go through the floor from shame.
“Another client who had no other way of paying off his debts went to the Amshinover Rebbe for an eitzah. The Rebbe directed him to a passage from the Ohr HaChaim that talks about donors and takers. ‘Think of the gvir as a bank teller,’ said the Rebbe. ‘Hashem deposited your money in this gvir’s account, and when you go to him, you’re just appealing for the money that’s been allocated to you.’”
The heimishe travel agent isn’t only patronized because of his advice or coaching; one of the major perks he provides is extending credit to the penniless meshulachim who can’t afford to fly.
“I used to be quite liberal about extending credit,” admits Reb Yitzchok. “But today I’m more careful. Some people barely cover their expenses and they have a line of receivers when they get back. Paying the travel agent isn’t usually the first priority.”
After incurring some bad debts, Ginsberg has become more vigilant: If it’s a new client, he demands either payment up front or a guarantor. (“Only give as much credit as you can afford to lose,” his rav once told him.) For repeat flyers going toNew York, he requests they drop the payment off at relatives inBrooklyn as soon as the price of the ticket is covered. Otherwise, he meets them on their way back home, before other creditors claim their take.
“The most successful meshulachim are those who go with a clear, organized goal,” says Reb Yitzchok. “Those who gamble — another few days, anew city — aren’t always lucky.”
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