Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Needy Jews exist; The Ark helps them

Danny Weber

     These columns are news stories, in theory. So I should put the most incredible part first, where you can notice it before you shrug and move on to the rest of the paper.
     But deciding what is the most incredible part can be a challenge.
     Would it be that The Ark, the 50-year-old Jewish social service organization, exists? That it provides food and counseling, medical aid and employment guidance to needy Jews?
     Or is the incredible part that the needy Jews themselves exist? Don’t Jews run the world? Are there really Jewish people right here in Chicago who would fill out paperwork and be assigned a case manager in order to get a cardboard box of tomato sauce and pasta and peanut butter?
     There are.
     Or is the incredible part that The Ark runs a food pantry in upscale Northbrook, 10 minutes from my house?
     Jews are an odd kind of minority group — both successful and oppressed, envied and hated. People believe the slurs. If the college Hillel club shows up at the big campus Oppressed Minority Jubilee, they get hard looks because, being Jews, they’re personally responsible for the wrongs of Israel. Aren’t they?
     I still haven’t gotten to the incredible part that prompted today’s effort: The Ark’s “Dinner-Less Dinner” fundraiser. At least incredible to me, because I once was the charities, foundations and private social services reporter. Wandering around the vast Hilton ballroom, eyeballing the big baskets of swag at the silent auction, entertaining the eternal puzzle: Why throw a big party? Why drain away desperately needed money to pay for indifferent chicken almondine, huge floral displays and a 35-minute set by Chaka Khan? Why not put all the money into good works, and as an added bonus, we get to stay home?
     That’s what The Ark does. It sends out invitations to a non-event, collects money, but:
     “No big gala, no big party,” said Cheryl Wittenstein, director of marketing at The Ark. “Instead, let’s directly affect the clients.”
     The Dinner-Less Dinner is an echo of a dramatic moment in the history of Chicago charity. In 1921, Jewish benefactors gathered at the new Drake Hotel for what became known as “The Food-less Banquet” to relieve Jews suffering in post-World War I Europe. Guests actually arrived at a ballroom containing long, empty tables. Serving food would be an “unwarranted extravagance, and in the face of starving Europe, a wasteful crime,” Jacob K. Loeb announced. “For you, the disappointment is temporary and passing. For them it is permanent and lasting.”

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  1. Just a suggestion - perhaps people could refer to those of us who are homebound as "homebound", not shut-in. We don't shut ourselves in.

    1. And if I did that, the complaint would be that you don't bind yourselves to your homes either. There's no end to it.

    2. good point, but "shut-in" makes me feel like a prisoner. Stuck at home sucks, regardless, but homebound feels like I have more agency. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. When I saw the headline..."Needy Jews exist" immediately reminded me of your headline from five years ago: "Flash: There are poor Jews!" And the search engine quickly brought it up...along with the numbers you included in your previous story about The Ark:

    A survey of American Jews found 16% of them earning below $30,000 a year, less than half the national average of 35%. And 44% of Jewish households earn more then $100,000 a year, compared to a national average of 19%. So, yeah,there are quite a few poor Jews. But like you said, having Jewish parents who noodge their kids about doing their homework.eventually pays off for many, if not most.

    The downside in your story from 2018, at least to me, was the mention that half of the needy Jews receiving boxes of canned food from The Ark have earned a college degree. Higher education is not, and never has been, a golden ticket to the good life, or to automatic success. That's still a myth. Ask the man who knows. Hell, I earned a degree...and for most of my life, I was among that 16%.

    .The Ark is more than just food. In 2018, you also mentioned the "huge" need for psychiatric and counseling services that the Ark provides to the Jewish poor. And that made me think, yet again, about one of the eternal conundrums of life: Do "mental health issues" eventually lead to financial struggles, failure, and poverty? Or is it the other way around?

    Thanks for writing about The Ark again, Mr. S. You did a mitzvah today.

  3. When our family moved to Miami when I was seven, every Sunday we'd visit my grandparents who were the first to go south. They lived in a one room area in the back of my grandfather's repair shop, just two blocks from the ocean on Miami Beach. We loved going swimming and then coming back for lunch that my grandmother prepared.
    Fast forward ten years and we're going over a book in my sociology class at UF called The Other America by Michael Harrington. I took exception to the fact that Harrington listed my grandparent's neighborhood as a slum. It never dawned on me that just because my grandparents were poor and received financial assistance, they lived in a slum. The streets were clean. All the older Jews were friendly.
    My professor danced around my remarks by stating something to the effect that according to certain data, South Beach was in fact a slum.
    After the aging Jews died, replaced by Cuban immigrants, developers came in and the rest is history.

    1. My grandmother lived in South Beach from '62 until '85. She lived in one of the first buildings to go condo, at 9th and Meridian. I visited her often, especially when I lived in Coconut Grove in '74-'75, but my first visits were in the early 70s.

      Parts of Miami Beach were becoming a little shabby by then, but it was certainly no slum.There were stray cats everywhere, and she fed them from her balcony. Her windows got the mild sea breezes, and her canaries sang in cages. People sang old Jewish folk songs on the porches of the hotels along Ocean Drive. There was no litter, and very little crime. The streets were safe and quiet. You could hear the oldsters singing in Yiddish in their apartments.

      After my grandmother's death, the Cubans came in, and things went downhill until the gentrifiers arrived a few years later. I have so many pleasant memories of South Beach in the Seventies and Eighties. Like I said, it was no slum. It was a ghetto of elderly Jews from up North, most of whom were originally European immigrants. I was caught up in the counterculture in those years, so I called it "a geriatric Berkeley." It vanished a long time ago.

  4. A Dinner-Less Dinner! What a great name for a "charitable event"!

  5. The Arks's main office is temporarily at 3500 Peterson, while they rebuild the 6450 N. California building.


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