I recently saw an article bemoaning the fact that the Agudah might make a tremendous amount of profit on the Siyum Hashas. The estimate was near 10 million. While I agree with the writer that they will make a profit, I actually hope they make more.
Let me explain.
Charity money can be used for important causes (Hatzolah is a good example) or not such important causes (giving money to save sea lions in Alaska). In addition, some charities are causes that people feel like giving to (the almanah with 10 yesomim), and some are hard to make people feel like giving to them (fundraising in Lakewood for shul being built in Arizona). It turns out that there are 4 possible combinations:
The charities in the first quadrant (important and feels good to donate), raise money relatively easily. Hatzolah is a good example, as is raising money for an almana and 10 yesomim.
Quadrant 2 (not important but feels good) doesn’t do too bad either. Despite these charities being not terribly important, they have found a way to make it feel good to donate to them. One good example is a famous breast cancer charity where investigations found that they only donated 15% of the money they raised to actual cancer research. Yet they are incredibly skilled marketers, spend a tremendous amount of money on advertising, and therefore raise an enormous amount of money. It feels good to donate to them even though the money that you’re giving to them is not actually used for important purposes. Most of it goes to paying executive salaries and for advertising.
We can safely ignore the 3rd quadrant (not important and doesn’t feel good), they have a difficult time raising money, but that’s fine because the money isn’t being used for anything important anyway.
It’s the 4th quadrant where things get tricky. These are causes that are incredibly important yet or difficult to sell from a PR perspective . Therefore these charities have an incredibly difficult time raising money, however they cannot stop what they’re doing as the work they do is absolutely vital.
I often think about what our country would look like if 9/11 had never happened. We can safely say things would be very different on many levels . Not only the families that lost lives, not only the Manhattan skyline, but the military operations that were taken, the money spent on security, the different inconveniences that we face because of the new focus on security, all of that would be drastically different.
But think about it. What if the United States had gotten intelligence about this potential terrorist plot sometime in advance and had denied the visas of the 20 hijackers. It might just be newsworthy enough to merit a 5-line column on page 20 of some small town newspaper. And yet, in importance it should be frontline news every day for years.
And that’s because we don’t think about issues that never happen. We don’t celebrate heroes who prevent disasters that never took place. If it didn’t happen, we don’t know about it, we don’t think about it, and we don’t focus on it.
Now let’s take it a step further. Say the head of this department, who understood the potential of a 9/11, was looking to get more funding a year before 9/11 from Congress to help vet potential immigrants. You could imagine that it wouldn’t be as good as a sell as some other program that had more mindshare.
The only ethical and responsible thing for the head of that Department to do at that point would be to come up with a way to get the funding, perhaps using some other program, so this incredibly important program which would essentially be saving thousands and thousands of lives could go on.
The Agudah is that department. What do they do? Mainly, they avert disasters for the frum community. The problems they solve never actually happen. They keep up with all the potential legislation and legal action in the country to sniff out any and all potential legal nuclear bombs that would have incredible impacts on the frum community. Then they lobby in Washington and on the state level, file lawsuits, and do everything else necessary to to make sure that laws are written, passed, modified, edited, and decided in the courts in a way that benefits us and does not harm us.
What type of laws? Religious liberties in the workplace, end of life issues, funding for Yeshivos, civil rights as it pertains to religion, and a lot more.
You didn’t get fired from your job as an attorney even though you need to take off a million days for YomTov? Thank the Agudah.
Your tuition is only 8,000 instead of 12,000 because of federal and state funding? Thank the Agudah.
You can wear a yarmulke at work? Thank the Agudah.
The insurance company can’t deny funding for your zeides hospital stay after you refused to have the plug pulled even though they know there “is no point in him living any more”? Thank the Agudah.
And much much more.
But because the Agudah is quadrant 4 cause, it’s incredibly difficult for them to raise funds. Everyone I know gives money to Hatzolah, to Almanos and Yesomim, to meshulachim in shul, and even to random parlor meetings for niche tzadakos (peer pressure, Sushi and Glatt Byte, go a long way). Almost nobody I know gives money to the Agudah.
And as much as they try to give over the message, to advertise and explain what they do, it often falls on deaf ears. Because nobody wants to hear about a 9/11 that never happened. It just doesn’t register in our minds. Quadrant 4 is not a fun place to be.
Boruch Hashem, once every 7 years, the Agudah gets something which is exciting and where people do want to give money. And they leverage it to the hilt. Quite frankly, the vast majority of the profits come from wealthy people who are paying the 100k a box or $1800 for a padded club seat and some Kishke. These are people who can afford it, who want to pay for it, and are happy with what they are getting. And yet, without the siyum, they wouldn’t ever imagine giving a dime to the Agudah. This windfall is what keeps the lights on at the Agudah for the next 7 years. Lobbying and litigation is extremely expensive.
Many seats were sold for 25 or 36 dollars. The Agudah knows and realizes that the profit should come from those who can afford it! Could they make a program where misaymim are guaranteed a cheaper seats even after the cheap seats are gone? Can they do it smarter and better? Of course. There is always room for improvement.
But ultimately, as a quadrant 4 organization, the plan of wealthy people paying a premium so the Agudah can keep the lights on is a brilliant and necessary plan. It would actually be unethical not to seize the moment.
And that’s why I hope they make more than 10 million.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of GreaterLakewood.