Blessed are the Givers
I'm currently in the States schlepping around raising funds for a number of initiatives aimed at holding within the community and the world of Torah learning young chareidim who do not see their future in full-time learning or who are seeking a future with a modicum of economic self-sufficiency.
There are surely few more frustrating ways to spend one's time than in fundraising, and I'm filled with awe for the roshei yeshiva and roshei kollel who do this on a regular basis. Only those who believe passionately in what they are doing would undertake such a burden.
The greatest frustration from my point of view is the enormous inefficiency. I have barely managed to open a sefer in the past week or to write a single word on any of my book projects, despite having hopefully packed numerous files. Every minute is spent in meetings, or travelling between them. And that's if one has the good fortune to even set up those meetings in first place.
It is possible to fill up every free moment sending emails or making phone calls trying to set up appointments. And often as not, each new appointment requires rejiggering the entire schedule, as if trying to solve Rubik's Cube.
But enough of the kvetching. The real point I wish to make is how inspiring the last ten days have been, despite the frustrations.
At the recent dedication of a new beis medrash of Bais Medrash Govoho, Reb Shimon Glick spoke of the extraordinary growth of Torah in America over the past seven decades and the tremendous wealth found today within the Torah community. These are not two distinct phenomena, he said, but rather two sides of the same coin: That wealth has been accumulated in order that Torah can flourish.
Each of those with whom we met displayed the same attitude that wealth is a Divine trust to be used for the benefit of Klal Yisrael. Not one showed the slightest interest in flaunting their wealth. One meeting took place in an office where I would guess that both the carpeting and wallpaper were about my vintage. And in another office, it took some time to assemble three weight-bearing chairs.
Real estate companies don't need to impress with their elegant headquarters. Hedge funds and major law firms do. But the attitudes of the partners in the latter were no different. The partner of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund told us how he refuses to move from a block on which all the other houses are owned or rented by mechanchim, even though his own modest home is bursting at the seams.
We met with ba'alei batim and roshei chabura in Lakewood. One young talmid chacham of means was obviously eager to return to the Shulchan Aruch still open in front of him, but forced himself to listen attentively and with a pleasant smile on his face before making a generous contribution.
At least two of those with whom we met either founded or have primary responsibility to raise the funds for major tzedakah organizations with an Eretz Yisrael focus. It would have been perfectly legitimate for them to excuse themselves on the basis of their primary responsibilities. But they didn't. Rather they shared their expertise and insights with us and still made significant gifts.
I was struck by the overwhelming sense of responsibility that everyone whom we met conveyed. They asked questions, often times quite penetrating ones. Despite their obvious desire to treat us respectfully and not to make us feel like beggars, they did not forget that distributing Hashem's bounty js a responsibility and that there is little reward for giving money to be used poorly or inefficiently. The quality of the questions not only forced us to refine and sharpen our presentation, but also on several occasions to rethink how we intended to implement our plans.
A number of those with whom we met have been friends of mine for years, and almost all were known to me in one way or the other. But I have been travelling with an Israeli colleague, who is actually the visionary behind the project, and I therefore had a chance to view my friends and acquaintances anew through his eyes. He could not stop expressing how impressed he was met by the seriousness, responsibility, friendliness, and generosity with both their time and money of those with whom we met.
Nor were all those who inspired me Jews of considerable means. Three younger baalebatim in Toronto threw themselves into making a parlor meeting. And the whole trip would have been impossible without a baalebos in Lakewood who took on the project as a personal mission, creating a website, obtaining tax exempt status, producing and redoing numerous times the power point presentation, personally creating flyers and brochures of high graphic quality, and button-holing at simchos and in shul everyone with whom he ever learned in yeshiva or kollel or who hosted him for a Shabbos during his single days to get appointments and make a parlor meeting in Lakewood.
Mi k'amcha Yisrael has been my constant thought for the last ten days, and has more than compensated for the various frustrations and answered the frequently asked question, "How did I get myself into this."
Can Trump Be the Leader We Deserve?
It is said that in a democracy, the people generally get the government they deserve. It so, America is in dire straits. (We will return to Madame Hillary in coming weeks, and start with the current Republican front-runner: Donald Trump.)
Trump is an exemplar of the most degraded elements of contemporary American celebrity culture, which holds fame before our young as the highest goal – fame detached from any of the forms of achievements for which human beings have gained honor over the past three millennia. Fame or infamy are all but interchangeable in our current celebrity culture. Whether one's "followers" were won by robbing a bank or discovering a cure for cancer barely matters.
Trump's chief asset as a candidate is his 100% name recognition by virtue of being the star of a reality TV show. I'm happy to report that I have no personal familiarity with the genre. But as near as I can discern, it is based on matching two of the lowliest human traits – the exhibitionism of the participants, who have cast aside all concepts of privacy in their willingness to degrade themselves before an audience of millions, and the voyeurism of the viewers.
If there is one principle upon which all the various strands of conservatism – with the possible exception of some libertarians – can agree it is that the private virtue of the citizenry plays a decisive role in the fate of nations, and that the best public policy is designed to foster the development of such virtue. Daniel Pipes, for instance, once concluded a summary of the relative military, economic and educational superiority of Israel over her Arab neighbors by noting that in the affairs of nations it is usually national will and belief in the future, rather than military power, which is ultimately determinative.
Another example: The breakdown of the traditional family, in which children are raised by two biological parents, is having a massive impact on American society. While children of both genders suffer from the absence of a father in single-mother headed households, recent studies show that the impact is much greater on male children. Thus the breakdown of the family may partly explain the growing educational gap between men and women, in which there are 45 men for every 55 women on America's campuses.
That educational gap is part of a vicious cycle. Since women naturally want to look up to their husbands, better-educated women will hesitate to marry less-educated men, leading to more female-headed households, which, in turn, will produce more poorly achieving male children.
For anyone concerned with the declining American character could there be a worse example to place before American young than Donald Trump? The socialization process that once occurred on American playgrounds -- e.g., "Don't toot your own horn;" "Don't brag about wealth" "Don't tease or make fun of others" – seems to have completely passed him by.
Most offensive is his lack of gratitude for the blessings showered upon him. Born on third base, he remains convinced that he has hit a triple. Having inherited a real estate portfolio worth hundreds of millions, he ridicules Marco Rubio's credit card debt. Pretty insufferable from someone who has declared bankruptcy four times, leaving his creditors holding the bag. And like a spoiled rich kid, he whines that he is asked harder questions than other candidates, when it is only his ignorance that makes them difficult.
If our children behaved like Donald Trump, we would be appalled and humiliated. So how can anyone contemplate without horror him becoming the nation's highest example for youth?
The second thing about which all conservatives agree – though not traditional "big business" Republicans (a crowd to whom Trump is not appealing) -- is that the government should not be choosing winners and losers in the economic market. But Trump has been a classic "rent-seeker" his entire business career looking for ways to tip the scales in his favor via the government. He is, for instance, an ardent defender of the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, which trashed private property rights and gave the most expansive reading ever to the power of eminent domain. Local governments, the Court ruled, could condemn private homes and businesses on behalf of private developers, in order to increase the tax base.
And he has always been a large donor to political campaigns of politicians from both parties in a position to put their fingers on the scales, most frequently to promote his various casino interests. He has even bragged about the politicians he has "bought."
The shocking support among generally conservative voters for Trump is generally explained as the outgrowth of undifferentiated rage directed at politicians of both parties. That may well be. But if it is, it only goes to show that anger not only wreaks havoc with all one's personal relationships, it also blinds one's eyes and makes one stupid with potentially disastrous consequences for the commonweal.