The doorbell rings. It is about a half hour before candle-lighting. I peer through the peep hole and see a well-dressed woman with a little hat crowning her head. I think for a moment. Do I? Don’t I? I do, and open the door. We exchange “Shabbat shalom” greetings, then the heavy stuff surfaces.
“I am not doing this for myself,” she stresses. “This is for a family of 10 that has just been hit with a diagnosis of cancer for a 14-year-old daughter.”
“What kind of cancer?” I ask in knee-jerk fashion.
“The name of a possible death knell is not important. Needed immediately is striking at this disease before it gets worse. Five-hundred shekels is required for just an initial level of treatment.”
“David,” I hear Rita from the other room, “Who is that at the door?”
I fumble for some words. “A woman. Here, seeking help.”
“What kind of help? If it’s money, give her some. Shabbat is near. I’m sure she has to go home, too.”
My wife is a realist. I just putter around when grave issues arise. I ask the woman to wait a second and go into another room and get some money. I pass it on, careful to make sure she doesn’t have to look at the bill, which I carefully hand to her.
She says “Thank you,” then turns from the door and is gone.
“Focusing on the tzedaka process” has been a part of my make-up since World War II, when my father was overseas and my mother and I lived in Virginia with my Bubbie and my uncle. That house, in 1945, had a wood-burning furnace that stood in a central location in the kitchen. How it kept the house warm I do not know, but it did. Seven decades ago, my Bubbie was my “Tzedaka Master.” I will never know how the collectors found that house on East Olney Road, but twice a week our doorbell would ring and standing there would be two or three bearded men.
“Bubbie, menschen haben kumen zu betten nedovos (Men are here for help).”
She had trained me to memorize those words. Any collector of another faith hearing me as a seven-year-old belt out these foreign phrases would quickly exit. Bubbie taught me the details to check for in a “tzedaka seeker.”
“David, ask where are they from, America or Eretz Yisrael. Ask if they have a letter – a piece of paper identifying who sent them. If the person shows you the letter, bring it to me.”
BACK THEN, Bubbie’s identity was widely known because of all her years doing good. She, however, had learned how to identify the “true believers” who were truly in need.
We all know that giving is easy if we want to give. What lies ahead for me and all of us is when the “vote seekers” will soon come knocking at our door. What to say? In the US, we never lived anywhere that a person actually came asking us to vote for a specific candidate. Since making aliyah in 1977 and living in Givat Mordecai, Gilo and Arnona/Talpiot, we have been visited. From nicely dressed college students to bearded men, from women carefully adorned and others, our vote has been sought. This election’s visitations are waiting in the wings. A patch of reverie sticks in my mind.
I recall well the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s “blitz boys.” In 1988, they arrived from all over the world, distributed two million rebbe cards and blessings, and thereby earned the ultra-Orthodox two unexpected Knesset seats. Their achievement ham-strung the formation of a new government for weeks. In the end, that memshala was adorned by rotating PMs Shamir and Peres. They never did much, but the Rebbe’s victory is cited in virtually all studies of elections in Israel.
What I envision in the days to come are knocks on the door highlighting my status as a citizen. There will be the 18-year-old, first-time voter who states, “Adon Geffen, in my class in ezrahut I learned that the greatest gift of an Israeli is to be able to vote in this Jewish state.”
There will be the laborer who has worked in my house previously, looks me straight in the eye and says, “Just don’t forget to vote.”
The college student will knock and say, “My message is to make sure the future is secure for people like myself who are studying. Election day is your day.”
A vatik in his 70s will knock with his cane. “Geffen, I checked your voting record. It’s pretty good. Make sure this time it’s perfect.”
A highly educated woman using Hebrew – which will show how much I still have to learn – will say, “We have all worked hard to build this country. Please make sure your voice is heard. Vote.”
Hatikvah, the hope, this April is that eligible voters will cast their ballots in larger numbers than they have in the last quarter-century. In our party-list system, I have no idea what a voter turnout of 75% would mean. But possibly we, the citizenry, could get a more representative government leading us.