This question is part of the larger issue of immigration reform that will have to be faced by the Congress once we get past the fiscal cliff concerns. But for Orthodox Jews in Chicago the question of having a green card brings to mind something altogether different.
Like any Orthodox community in a large metropolitan area, there are frequent rings of the bell or visitors who show up to a weekday or Sunday morning minyan. In my experience they are only male, from the Charedi or Hasidic community and most often reside in Israel. They are referred to as meshulachim, some who were sent by a particular yeshiva or institution while others are collecting for themselves, a sick relative, or preparing for a wedding of a child (and the household needs of the new couple). In Chicago, they first stop at the local Agudat Israel office that gives them a “green card” which states they are who they claim to be. Donations are made out to Agudat Israel and can be claimed as charitable donations. There are reminders to make the checks out carefully as a small number of meshulachim have been known to add an extra zero to the sum. However, it is important to remember that there are and were many honorable meshulachim in Jewish history who did important work for yeshivot and other institutions.
The question arises as should you give them money? The minyan I attend gives them ten dollars and they are not allowed to ask anyone in attendance for money. Some people at their homes refuse them outright or give them five dollars. I am troubled by the money they spent on a plane ticket to get to North America and various cities and the cash paid to their drivers who chauffeur them. I also am not a supporter of the Charedi community. Indeed last Israel Independence Day a group showed up at my minyan and deliberately sat down for Hallel which caused quite a scene of consternation. From the point of view of Jewish legal tradition, the needs of one’s own community should take precedence. But they are also fellow Jews and perhaps a buck or two with a smile will not hurt, but many of us wonder if we are simply being used.
I am fortunate that I live a couple of miles away from the center of the orthodox community and so my door bell rarely rings. But every October, a few days after Sukkot, I get a visit from a fellow from Israel. He is collecting for his institution. I actually treasure the visit. He knows my name and my wife’s and addresses both of us. He shares wonderful divrei Torah, short Torah teachings. We talk about our families. We share a small shot of scotch for a l’chaim. He is so endearing and personable that I always give him a decent contribution. My next trip to Israel I will visit his organization and see what it actually is. Maybe I will bring a green card from Chicago and collect for my favorite charitable institutions from home.