Glass jar full of money with a dollar bill in the top

It looks like the men who go around to various shuls every morning to collect tzedakah, either for themselves or the institutions they work for, have gotten used to the new normal.

I imagine it’s not an easy or enjoyable task to spend the morning driving around or being driven to 50 or so shuls, checking the rules and regulations about how and when you are allowed to move around and collect a dollar or a few dollars or maybe only a quarter or so—all in a day’s work of collecting.

Now there might be as many as 200 daily minyanim, including those inside or outdoors, which means there is a lot of ground to cover within a limited amount of time during the morning when most people are huddled together or attending their daily minyanim — and that number is just here in the Five Towns.

These fellows have only recently and reluctantly decided to make the rounds of some of the  ragtag, unofficial outdoor minyanim. The other day I was at an outdoor morning minyan when through the bushes I observed a white van pull up and then saw several pairs of feet disembarking and moving in our direction.

But there are at least two sides to these calculations, and the other side is that most of our groups are pretty much the same every day. We know each other and our families know one another. We are cognizant of how we have been managing in this age of the pandemic and so on. Without getting into too many medical details, when people we do not know appear, everyone becomes a little uncomfortable with the new equation and what or who exactly we are dealing with.

You must have noticed over the last few weeks that after a long interlude, some of the regular folks who visit us from Israel during Elul and then again a few weeks prior to Pesach began ringing doorbells and appearing at our offices. The first time I sensed that these men were back I was curious as well as confused. Wait a minute, I thought, we could not get into Israel this summer unless there was an extraordinary circumstance, the thought process being that Israel does not need us over there potentially spreading the virus. I could understand that. But if that’s the case, what are the men from Meah Shearim, Geula and Bnei Brak doing here?

Here’s another question: If we are supposed to be socially distancing, what is anyone who does not belong here doing here, especially coming from Israel, where the country is about to go into some form of lockdown as we approach Rosh Hashanah?

The other day I was in my office in Cedarhurst when one of our employees left for lunch. The door, which is usually locked, did not close all the way, and I noticed on the security camera someone swing open the door and enter.

I saw the person on our security cameras and was wondering who, in these circumstances, would be coming into an office to see people they do not know. The young man was wearing the traditional black hat and suit and white shirt. He had payos, which was how I could tell he was a redhead.

Obviously, under normal circumstances, I try to help out those who arrive here for tzedakah. But like everyone else in this milieu, I was taken aback by the brazenness of entering an unknown office not knowing who was there or what they may be dealing with in terms of the coronavirus.

I got up from behind my desk before the young man could reach my office, feeling a little indignant. I asked him what he was doing here, where he was from, and why he just walked in unannounced, without anyone knowing who he is or what he is dealing with.

He reached into his jacket pocket, saying that he had antibodies and some kind of certificate to prove it. His English was halting, but I asked him how I would know that the certificate is real or that the antibody test he took was reliable. I suggested that maybe there are people in Israel or elsewhere (fill in the blank) just printing up antibody certificates to hand out to people flying into the United States to collect money before yom tov.

Eliyahu Elkayam

I told him that I have antibodies, too, but that there are other people in the office, we do not know him, and that we’re not allowing anyone in as a matter of policy at this point. I gave him a few dollars (OK, $20) and asked him to please leave.

This pandemic has landed hard on a number of previously successful business endeavors. Though we can say that it probably does not qualify as an industry per se, one of those hard-hit by these drastic changes in lifestyle is the tzedakah or in-person-collecting business.

This emphasis on social distancing along with the closure of our shuls in the spring no doubt wreaked havoc on the men and some women who walk through the shul or sit near the door in order to collect the funds needed, in many cases, to live.

One more matter on this subject, on which we can pontificate endlessly, is what happened to our dear friend Eliyahu Elkayam last week here in the Five Towns. Eliyahu is a frequent or at least seasonal visitor to our office—that is, before the new situation set in. Because he comes to the office and I don’t just pass him by at minyan, over the years I have had the opportunity to engage in conversation with him about his business, so to speak.

In my estimation, he is the most prolific shul collector I’ve ever encountered. He lives in Brooklyn and is here in the Five Towns six days a week before 6 a.m. He takes the subway into Far Rockaway along with his partially folded-over motorized bicycle on which he scoots around the neighborhood collecting money in the bigger shuls, which — in the past, anyway — had the larger minyanim.

Last week, Eliyahu was riding his bicycle on Central Avenue when he was hit by a car. He suffered a broken leg and a broken hand, was taken to the hospital by Hatzalah, and is now recovering at home.

Eliyahu will not be riding that bike for a while as his wounds heal. Last week, a GoFundMe page was organized for Eliyahu and his family’s benefit. The $50,000 goal was quickly reached, as, over the years, so many here and in other communities have taken to Eliyahu and the determined way in which he goes about doing what he does day after day.

One of the people from Jerusalem who visits my office regularly called me from Israel last week to wish me a good new year. He called to say that he could not leave Israel under the current circumstances but wanted to say hello before yom tov. He didn’t say anything about his need for money. I guess when he finally gets here we will have to make up for the missed visit.

When the next person from Israel called that same day, before the end of the conversation I asked him to e-mail to me a copy of his banking information so that I could make a deposit in his account. Maybe that will be the wave of the future in tzedakah, along with outdoor minyanim.

I hope to reach out to Eliyahu this week to see how he is doing. When I get him on the phone, I will wish him a refuah sheleimah and extend my wishes to him, and to our readers as well, for a Shanah Tovah U’Mesukah, a good and sweet New Year.

Contact Larry Gordon at lg5tjt@gmail.com. Follow 5TJT.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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