You'd think that a mitzvah as basic as tzedakah, charity, would not have anything to do with the primary topics of this forum - rationalism vs. mysticism, and charedi vs. centrist Orthodoxy. But, at least in Ramat Bet Shemesh, it certainly does.
There are a number of different communal charity organizations in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Some organizations give hand-outs to the many local desperate kollel families which, while alleviating their current hardship, does nothing to change their long-term situation. This is presumably based on the mystical idea that such kollel study is valuable; perhaps even more so than financial self-sufficiency.
But one of them, Lemaan Achai, is the most extraordinary charity organization that I've seen, and has a different approach. Their motto is "smart chessed." When taking on a family, they first have a case worker assess every aspect of the family's situation. Then their goal is to practice charity according to Rambam's principles, whereby the highest level of charity is to rehabilitate the family such that they are independent.
"Smart chessed" also has ramifications for collecting donations. They focus less on shtick and more on what people really need. Collecting money to provide people with a Purim seudah made a lot of sense in an era where the basic requirement was food. But today, when the amount of money collected may well exceed the cost of providing Purim seudos, but there are utility bills and other problems to be solved, it makes more sense to spread donations more broadly. Lemaan Achai offers a "Smart Matanos L'Evyanim" program, whereby some of the donation is used to buy provisions for a Purim Seudah, and the rest is used for more important needs.
Lemaan Achai equally services all sectors of the local population - charedi, dati-leumi, secular, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Israeli, Russian, French, Anglo. Its rabbinic board is also diverse, including dati-leumi as well as moderate charedi rabbanim.
Put together all the above factors, and you have the recipe for an organization which does incredible work - but you also have the recipe for an organization that, in Ramat Bet Shemesh, faces active opposition.
It's no secret that Ramat Bet Shemesh, for all its amazing qualities that make it a much sought-after place to live, suffers from a lot of divisiveness and zealotry from certain sectors of the population. This has spilled over to local charities. Despite the fact that Lemaan Achai helps many local charedi families, they are prohibited from making appeals in many local charedi shuls - often the same shuls which have families that they help! In some cases, Lemaan Achai fundraisers have been forcibly and physically prevented from entering local shuls. And when they put up banners and posters to fundraise, these are often ripped down. At a broader level, the struggle between Lemaan Achai and other organizations has become symbolic of the larger struggle to define the character of Ramat Bet Shemesh - as a town housing a diverse population, or as a charedi hegemony.
If you're looking for a good, smart cause for your charity shekels/dollars, please consider Lemaan Achai. You can find out more, and donate, via their website at www.SmartChesed.org.