Bnei Brak is a different story. O.k. let me rephrase that: it is yet another cultural experience in Israel.
The way it looks here is different from any other place I have come to know in Israel. The amazing thing is that considering the size of this tiny country you would expect it to look pretty much the same everywhere. I am not talking about the landscape or the view, but the urban character. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are worlds apart, yet less than an hours drive separates them. The towns in the northern part have their own flair and so do the ones in the desert areas. Eilat is a story in its own. And now I am discovering that there is still more.
The first day at my new job, I got off the bus a little too early. Here I found myself at a bus stop, a regular little booth with a bench, but hardly recognizable as a bus station. It had little boxes, the size of old-fashioned post boxes on private garden fences attached to it everywhere. Some were fixed to the back and side walls, others on the signpost and some on their own pole, making them look like birdhouses. There were also larger boxes, the size of fire hydrants or mail collection boxes. Instead of the slot to slip in papers, they had a small notch, just big enough for a coin and a slightly longer one underneath, in which a banknote would fit. Yap, that’s right, the entire bus stop was ornated with donation boxes.
It was quite an astounding sight. Not only at bus stations but at every sign pole, separation fence, traffic light etc. were you offered the opportunity to donate money to a dozen different charity organizations. Who is collecting all this money and where does it go? Were my spontaneous questions. Several of them had images of some bearded rabbi, others were decorated with a crying child and all of them had a lot of text and stickers. They promised redemption to those who give. Another one said children are hungry. Yet another one promised donations would truly reach those in need. An Organisation was rarely named.
Bnei Brak is one of the most religious areas in Israel. I know that giving to charity is an important part of religious life, but this seems a little out of proportion. On the other hand, if you consider the size of an average family and how poorly they live it doesn’t seem so strange anymore. Studying Tora is the mens‘ main purpose in life – more important than working an making money. I realize that receiving money from charity may be just as much part of their lives as donating.
It is one of those things about religious life, I don’t know what to think about. The religious communities have their own internal economy. Through their many charity organizations and „gemachim“, they take care of each other and make sure that nobody has to lack anything. It’s a bit like crowdfunding. Everybody gives little to make big things possible. That’s a beautiful concept. but who really profits from it, if anyone?
- Gemachim (singular: Gemach) are a kind of second-hand stores. Religious people donate stuff – that can be anything from household items to clothes, toys, books, medical equipment etc – and others can buy it cheap or rent it. It is very comon.