There is a long tradition, no less prominent in Judaism than in other cultures, of voluntary service and donations collected for the benefit of the needy or some other public purpose.
There is also a long list of eleemosynary organizations that have gone bad, with leaders using the resources collected for their own enrichment.
The schnorer is an established character is Jewish myth and humor. The man or woman who asks for money, some of which may be for him/herself, but is skilled in telling a story that warms the heart and opens the wallet.
Currently in our headlines are the Hadassah Hospitals, whose management is not so far accused of anything criminal, but which has amassed huge debts, produced as a result of mismanagement. If the discussion has not included accusation of stealing, there are numerous stories of well placed individuals who have been paid impressively large sums for work that seems only marginally associated with the fine purposes that the Women of the Hadassah organization have trumpeted as the reasons for donating.
The Hospitals currently are not paying their bills, and are having trouble obtaining medicines and equipment. Employees are getting only part of their salaries, are working only part of the time, and threatening to stop even that. Various government officials are proclaiming that Hadassah is too important to fail, but are wrestling among themselves and with various representatives of the Hadassah administration and its workers to deal with the various claims and assertions of what must be done.
Those speaking for the physicians, nurses, low ranking and senior administrative personnel, various government officials with responsibiliy for finance or health, and the worthies of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America are blaming one another for the problem, and asserting their own innocence and aspirations.
There is a substantial literature written about organizations which helps us to understand this.
Private, public, or a mixture of the two is no guarantee of good management. There may be crooks, fools, and pompous self-inflated personalities in leadership positions in organizations of all kinds.
Currently competing for the headlines with Hadassah is a high ranking police officer who has resigned under pressure, associated with a charismatic rabbi accused of various nefarious activities. The police officer and the rabbi are accusing one another of the more serious wrongdoings. Also getting headlines is a former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, accused of taking bribes, and putting in his own pocket large sums donated for public purposes.
Israel claims to be the culmination of whatever is Jewish, as well as pleased to accept the support and donations of Jews elsewhere. It may be heretical to criticize hard working men and women who are convinced they are doing the Lord's work by volunteering, raising money, and contributing their own for the good work of building Israel.
Yet it should be no surprise that one of the most prominent of their organizations does not match the fine words used to fire up volunteers and raise money.
Hadassah is not alone.
The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) has been in and out of trouble several times in its long history. Other hospitals and the universities, each of which has its organization of overseas friends, also have had scandals large or small.
We should be careful before claiming that Israel is better or worse managed than any other country or organization. There are lists claiming to rank such things, but typically they rely on the judgement of people claiming to be experts. One should doubt that the experts know enough about various countries or organizations to compare and rank one with the other.
Israel in February of 2014 is not the same mythic place of 1948, or even as it was when I arrived in 1975.
I recall that no university students had their own cars. It was not a problem to find a parking place at the university.
Now lots of them drive, and parking is a problem.
Hadassah, the Hebrew University, and most likely all the other organizations that raise money in the Diaspora get most of their money from Israeli taxpayers. The extras financed by contributors are welcome, even if they come along with various kinds of claims as to the importance of all those dinners, tours of donors throughout Israel, and the ceremonial opening of new installations named for a Diaspora family.
Israel has several tens of thousands of organizations similar to American "non-profits." They typically raise money from donors and rely to some extent on volunteer workers. For many of them, some or even most of their money comes from one or another government body.
As in other well-to-do democracies, virtually all of Israel's social services are provided by organizations that are partly governmental and partly private. The mode of organization has its advantages and its disadvantages. They provide citizens with opportunities to participate in decisions and in the provision of service. Their advocates claim greater flexibility than something purely governmental. However, their direction is divided between several sources of input. No one is really in charge, and they provide opportunities for finagling.
Israel is distinct in having an active Diaspora that further complicates the management of its social services. Overseas contributors may have had a role in the foundation of some hospitals and universities, and may have a formal role on their boards of directors. However, they generally defer to local professionals who rise to management. A common pattern is for prominent overseas donors to be given great respect and formal positions of oversight, but little actual role in making key decisions, or supervising what the locals do with money that comes mostly from the Israeli government budget and Israelis' fees for service, and secondarily from overseas donors.
When a scandal erupts, we should expect that each of those with a finger in the pot will be pointing to someone else.
Nonetheless, keep the money coming. The act of contributing may add to your self-esteem, the good feelings of the schnorer you know and admire, and may add to the quality of Israel. But every once it a while it is likely to be embarrassing, perhaps not more or less than the actions of any other organization, religious, secular, governmental, private, or a mixture of them all.
And don't delude yourself into thinking that you are contributing more to the Jewish enterprise than Israeli taxpayers.
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