R' Aryeh Weingarten's Maximum Response for Beitar

At my father's levayah, one of my brothers related a late-night conversation with him, a"h. He told my brother that as a young man he had wanted to give away all his money. The guilt feelings of living in comfort when others had nothing overwhelmed him.

My father never acted on that impulse, which was certainly fortunate given the number of descendants who would end up learning in kollel. But I can well understand how he felt.

The radio blares, "Save the life of Naomi," a young girl who needs a transplant in the United States, which will cost over $200,000, and we wonder how we can worry about apartments for our children, much less the family summer vacation, when a Jewish life hangs in the balance. Sure, ten of thousands of others will hear the same plea, but how can I rely on them? Only the knowledge that next week it will be Chaim who needs a transplant lets us rationalize that we have a bank overdraft and allows us not to pledge a large sum.

In the morning minyan, most men will be approached by at least the "regulars," some of whom are still sporting peach fuzz where their beards will one day grow; there will be at least one piteous plea from the bimah; and likely a full-color brochure will be distributed around the shul describing a truly heart-wrenching familial situation. During the day, the phone will ring three or four times with calls from various chesed organizations, each one detailing a heartrending case.

Because we know the list is endless and we are incapable of fulfilling all the requests, we harden our hearts and give less than we initially want to. Often, we come to resent the constant assault on our emotions because we recognize the hardening of our hearts and feel ashamed. We do not wish to feel bad about ourselves.

OCCASIONALLY, HOWEVER, one meets someone without the normal human defense mechanisms, someone who cannot hear of a fellow Jew in need without responding to the maximum. I first heard of Aryeh Weingarten and his organization Karmey Chessed when my wife worked as a social worker in Beitar. Many of her clients were beneficiaries of the organization, and she quickly learned to turn to Karmey Chessed for help whenever a critical need arose. She felt fully confident when she made the organization the principal beneficiary of her maaser kesafim.

Reb Aryeh started Karmey Chessed simply to respond to the tragic situations that he encountered in Beitar. He saw the way that neighbors were crumbling under debts. Even some with sources of income, albeit inadequate to meet their families' needs, were crushed by the burdens that never went away and lost the ability to function at all.

Weingarten had no resources of his own or any connection to those who did. When his oldest daughter became a kallah, she told her father that she would be happy to have the chuppah in their house because she knew her parents had no money to contribute to a chasunah. (He did not take her up on her offer, though the chasunah was in one of the heavily subsidized halls.)

But he could not stand by helplessly as he witnessed others collapsing under their burdens. The more he raised, the more his desire to give grew.

The needs of Beitar alone easily would have been sufficient to absorb any money he could raise. And if not Beitar, certainly the chareidi community in which he lives. The newest government poverty figures published last week showed that the rate of chareidi poverty rose six points, to 66 percent, from 2012 to 2013. By contrast, the rate of Arab poverty dropped 7 percent. At 47 percent, the Arab poverty rate is now nearly 20 percent lower than that of chareidim.

But Weingarten did not confine his efforts to his neighbors or fellow chareidim. High on his list of beneficiaries were victims of injustice or those who have suffered as a consequence of defending the Jewish People. In 2001, a terrorist carrying a bomb tried to blow up a busload of passengers at a gas station just outside the West Bank city of Ariel. M, the bus driver, succeeded in neutralizing the terrorist, but when a soldier on the bus shot the terrorist, he also partially detonated the bomb the terrorist was holding.

M was permanently disabled. Eventually all the medicines he was taking caused him to develop diabetes, requiring around-the- clock insulin. It took seven years for Bituach Leumi to respond to M's needs. He told Breaking News Israel that without Karmey Chessed, his family of 11 could never have made it through that period. Not only did the organization supply food, clothing, and expensive medications, but they called every week to make sure that M's family had everything it needed for Shabbos.

The families expelled from Gush Katif are another focus of Karmey Chessed. At the time of the expulsion, almost all the families were involved in thriving, independent agriculture. Today, nine years later, about half still do not have permanent homes, and the unemployment rate among the expellees is 25 percent.

This past summer Karmey Chessed focused on soldiers from low-income families serving in Gaza. Shoshi, the NCO in charge of welfare for a brigade with a majority of soldiers from low-income homes, contacted Karmey Chessed, and Weingarten responded with care packages of easily prepared food and snacks for soldiers fighting on the front lines and baskets containing toiletries, socks, towels, and underwear for soldiers on furlough. Each package came with a Chumash as well. "I can never do too much for the soldiers," Weingarten says.

With limited resources but unlimited ambitions, Karmey Chessed has had to find ways to stretch its resources to the maximum. To do so, it relies entirely on a large network of volunteers. Its successful Green Project collects old furniture and appliances that would otherwise be filling garbage dumps around the country, refurbishes them, and distributes them to poor families.

For its ability to stretch its resources to the maximum, Karmey Chessed received the highest possible ranking from Israel Gives, which evaluates 30,000 chesed organizations in Israel. And Aryeh Weingarten has provided many others of limited means like him with the opportunity to be major givers.

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