Charity is not just about giving; it is also about empathy.
Every beggar has a story, and I wanted to know the story of the beggar I met every week in my small Israeli town.
You cannot miss him sitting outside the delicatessen. He sits there every Friday on a plastic chair. Blind in one eye, his gaze from the other is penetrating as he displays a note from his local rabbi recommending giving him charity.
I used to wonder when he began his “career” as a beggar. For some reason, I felt certain that he was not born into a family of beggars.
When I ask him for an interview, he responds, “Why not? But while you’re at it, I need a ride to the train station.”
As we drive to the train station, the beggar begins to tell his story. His first statement shocks me with its expression of deep pain: “My entire life was hell! I didn’t have a single good day,” he says.
Menashe Fadal was born in a small Yemenite village, one of seven brothers. “We had a very difficult childhood. Our father was a shoemaker, and we herded sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. We worked extremely hard but remained excruciatingly poor.”
Menashe immigrated to Israel with his parents in 1949. “I never had an education,” he sighed. “In Israel I worked in gardens and in construction, and then I joined the army. When I finished my service I married, but divorced a year later.”
“My second marriage wasn’t much better, but it lasted longer. She died five years ago. You see, I have no luck.”
Rich for a Day
“My entire life was hell! I didn’t have a single good day,” he says.
Then, despite his run of bad luck, Menashe won the lottery—one and a half million shekels. “Nothing is left of it,” he explains. “I split the money with the family and gave some to charity. The rest of the money was sucked out of me without pity. Soon I was left with nothing.”
Four years after his short-lived stint as a rich man, Menashe began to ask people for money. “I fell ill and had no money to live on, to pay for food, for medicine.”
He became blind in one eye and suffered a loss of vision in his other eye. “Every week I am in the hospital. I have no money for anything, not even to pay my rent. I have no choice but to beg for money.”
Menashe lives in a rented room in Ashdod, where the rabbi of the Belz chassidic community gave him a written recommendation.
“I go wherever my feet take me,” he tells me, “but I do have a few places I go regularly: Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Shuk Hakarmel, Shekhunat Hatikvah, and once a week I come to Kfar Chabad.
“I come here every Thursday afternoon and meet people at the synagogue. I have my regulars who give me a steady amount. One gives 50 shekels, another 100 shekels, and the like. At night I go to sleep at the home of a good person who kindly hosts me. And in the morning I come here to the delicatessen.”
When I ask Menashe if he has any good memories, he answers sadly, “I haven’t had one good moment in my life. At first I worked very hard and then I got sick. Recently I spent three days in the hospital. I couldn’t move and didn’t eat much. The door to my room was open, but no one came to visit. My entire life has been one long hell.”
When I push him a little more, he says, “Maybe the day of my second marriage, but even that was only so-so.”
I glance at the man sitting next to me. Will Menashe be a beggar for the rest of his life? What does the future hold for him?
“I do own a house,” he says, “but because of a feud, the house is not in my hands. Maybe one day we will make peace and I will sell the house. From that I will have enough money to live off for the rest of my life. Who knows?”
The train to Ashdod is entering the station. We bid each other farewell.
As the train pulls out, I think to myself: Menashe may look like a beggar, but he has feelings and a working mind just like anyone else. Charity, I realize, is not only about money; it is also about the way we look at and judge one another.