This past Sunday's NY Times Magazine featured "The Beggars of Lakewood," by Mark Oppenheimer, about the concept of schnorring.
|Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times|
It was actually a very nice article. The whole piece is a pleasant read, but I would like to highlight a couple of points.
It mentions one of the wealthiest men of Lakewood, Rich Roberts.
Roberts, who is married with six children, moved to Lakewood seeking a religious community within commuting distance of Philadelphia. But when he got to an Orthodox community, he discovered the downside of living with his coreligionists. “In the secular world,” Roberts told me, the rich live “in estates that are away from the public. They’ll have gates, they’ll have guards. People even buy their own islands.” But because religious Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath, they must live within walking distance of their synagogues, no matter how wealthy they are. Roberts clearly lives well. His large house was decorated in a style you might call South Jersey riche: overstuffed sofas, late-model kitchen, huge dinner table for Sabbath guests, giant exotic aquarium dominating the living room. But it was not in an exclusively rich neighborhood. “I am a well-to-do person,” he said, “but I live in a poverty-stricken area.”
The non-Jewish or irreligious millionaires seclude themselves from the rest of the rabble, unable to see the difficulties, first-hand, of their fellow human. In order to be empathetic, there must be exposure. Just by having to be able to easily reach a minyan by foot, a financially diverse community is guaranteed. And Roberts is very, very generous, always listening to the stories being told.
The current Aharon Kotler (Reb Aharon's einikel) was also interviewed.
I asked Kotler what he thought of the culture of begging. “I think that people of quality want to live in a place that has a flavor of doing chesed,” or kindness, he said. He questioned whether the door-to-door begging was “the most effective way to raise money,” but ultimately he looked on it favorably.
“There’s a certain warmth and trust to it,” Kotler said. “In a big city, in Manhattan, you see indigent people collecting on the street. That doesn’t feel as dignified as this. Here, a person knocks on the door. And tells you their story.”
People want to be seen and heard. They want to count. They want to be recognized. Often that can be just as valuable to them as the money they are attempting to raise, that they were looked in the eye and respected.
Brené Brown (b'sheim amra) wrote on this. The barista who brews the coffee, your waitress at the restaurant, the fellow who pumps the gas—see them. Hear them. It makes a big difference.