The mezuzah on the doorpost of our home seems to act as a "beacon" that signals and draws charity-seeking individuals to our door at all hours of the evening and night. Many of these people seem to be demanding money, not asking for it. (Frankly, we are considering removing the mezuzah from our front door.) What do you advise?

Dr. A. G---, MD


C'mon, doc, it can't be all that terrible! Of course, I can sympathize with the sense of harassment you're experiencing. We have recently moved to a densely Jewish neighborhood, and are now experiencing something similar. But we try to look at the larger picture.

You probably know that Jewish people rank as the biggest donors to philanthropic causes in North America. In times past, even the gentile beggar knew there was more help available from the impoverished, oppressed Jew than from his own kind. The ancient sages taught that a Jew is identified by three qualities: Compassion, a sense of shame, and an urge to do kind deeds. If he lacks one of these, they said, he is of questionable origin.

True, there are some rather obnoxious individuals that turn up occasionally. However, the overwhelming majority are people with real issues. Most represent some institution in Israel. Many have a family member in dire need of assistance. We consider it a great privilege, as well as a noble tradition of the Jewish people, to help such persons.

Rather than backtrack, taking down your mezuzah (which won't help anyway, since they have your address by now!), I can make several suggestions:

o Always ask for a letter of introductions from an established institution.

o Establish a nominal amount to give to the standard door-knocker. If they start making demands, you can tell them — and repeat to them — “This is what I give everybody. I have to be fair.” If they seem to be someone in real, urgent need, increase somewhat. Some make that standard amount $18, others $5, others $100. All according to what fits for you. You can always increase later.

o Many people in your situation put a notice outside the door stating hours for charity collectors. Ask someone to write a Hebrew version for you as well.

I don't know if you have ever been in need of help, out on the street or suffered one of those crises that brings financial ruin. I can tell you it ain't fun. And the humiliation of receiving money from people begrudgingly is worse than salt to the wounds.

Neither do those who have taken it upon themselves to raise funds for an institution have an easy time. They are often teachers or even distinguished rabbis. They must spend many months away from their families. The experience is very trying and often degrading. You can try to make it a little easier on them with a few simple gestures, such as offering a cup of coffee, use of your washroom, or even with a simple smile and wishes of good luck.

Tzvi Freeman for