How I Helped Yanky Kanievsky Buy His Luxury Home
Yanky Kanievsky, grandson and manager of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, just bought a new home. It's a stunningly decorated, three-floor home, very different from the standard apartments in Bnei Brak. He paid the entire sum outright, without taking out any mortgage. He didn't even have to sell his previous home in order to buy it. After all, he didn't need his own money for it.
He had mine.
I'm still not clear as to exactly how it happened. True, I don't check my credit card statements as carefully as I should. There are several standing monthly payments to various charities. Back in 2018, I received a receipt from one such charity, called Beit David, but I was suddenly suspicious, because I hadn't remembered ever donating to it. Looking into it further, I saw that it was based in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet - the extremists' neighborhood, which I couldn't imagine housing a charity that I would give to. The receipt was for a standing monthly payment that was taking place over two years! I immediately stopped the payments.
I vaguely remember calling them and asking how they had started processing donations from me, and not receiving any satisfactory answer. Meanwhile, on the local Beit Shemesh email list, it turned out that there were others in the same position. Beit David had taken thousands of shekels from their bank account, over a prolonged period, without their knowledge or consent.
I had forgotten all about this until a few days ago, when I learned about Yanky Kanievsky's extraordinary new home. How did a thirty-year-old kollel student afford such a property?
One friend of mine told me that many people simply give him gifts. They are so enthralled to have someone as special as Rav Chaim in the world, that they gladly give money to him. Of course, the physical act of giving is done via his family manager. Who uses it to buy a luxury home.
That in itself is distasteful, but it seems that there are much, much worse things taking place.
A few weeks ago, an explosive piece of investigative journalism in The Marker (which you can also read here) revealed shocking facts about some high-profile charity campaigns. It was summarized in English on Twitter and commented upon by journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt as follows:
‘The industry behind “Yocheved has kidney disease” & “Yossi needs heart surgery” is a murky one, peopled with activists, journalists & broadcasters who milk charities & divide loot among themselves. At best, the remaining crumbs go to the needy.’
Orthodox community members are constantly bombarded with heartbreaking fundraising pleas — destitute brides, emergency transplants, children orphaned by Covid. Charity is sewn into our very ethic: Torah, repentance and charity save us from an evil decree, our sages teach. And donors, from big to small, open their hearts and wallets— and sometimes, are being swindled, according to this report. The report shows how a vast majority of fundraising proceeds from one charity org go to media channels & askanim.
The numbers tell it all: an Israeli non-profit campaigned for medical expenses for 26 patients. Auditors requested support files of the 26; 18 of them were "lost." The 8 cases that were found revealed that of a total of NIS 8.8 million raised for 8 patients, only about NIS 950K was transferred to beneficiaries in total. That’s about 11%.
Another campaign, "Saving Yocheved,” sought to raise funds for a woman’s urgent surgery for a kidney transplant. The public opened their wallets, pouring in donations. NIS 5 million was raised. However, according to the report, only NIS 116K went to Yocheved. 98% of the money went to the mechanism around it, to well-known radio programs, media consultants and procurers of rabbinic support. 98%.
One donor named Avraham Schechter claimed in a lawsuit that he tried to find out if Tamar, the "sick orphan" whose story broke his heart & inspired him to give NIS 18K, did exist. He contacted the call center & radio station, asked to speak with Tamar, but was refused. (The CEO of Kol Barama insisted to TheMarker that it is not his job to find out if the people at the center of campaigns they broadcast do exist.)
Our communities have a serious problem on our hands — the lack of fiscal transparency in religious nonprofits, the ease with which corruption happens at the expense of innocent donors, and the systemic cover-up of this. Certainly, not all charities are the same but this case shows how sizable, easy and broad a charity fraud can be. What ensures us that this is not happening elsewhere? What mechanisms are we building to protect both baalei tzedakah & our most vulnerable? Community members ought to be demanding: Where are our tzedakah donations going? And how are our own media companies complicit in this — abdicating their responsibility to comfort the afflicted, and instead choosing to comfort the comfortable?
It is disturbing to witness such a cynical abuse of belief and kindness. Robbing widows, sick & orphans in the name of chesed, while promising blessings to the naive donors who do it as an act of pure tzedakah —This is literally choosing fatty meat and incense over the rights of the orphan & the cause of the widow.לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפּט!
Postscript: I hesitated to tweet this because I know some of the players here, & there will be implications for me merely for sharing this. But I realized the reasons for hesitation are the same reasons our community stays silent about too many festering issues. (Source: https://threader.app/thread/1445037141961158665)
The article specifically mentioned that large funds are paid to those who obtain celebrity rabbinic endorsements, such as the House of Rav Kanievsky. And it names the charity at the center of this scandal: Beit David. As you can see on Beit David's website, they have a prominent endorsement from Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Meanwhile, a check on the Ministry of Justice website reveals that this charity is being shut down under court order.
Now, it would certainly be false to claim that all charedi charities are like Beit David. There are many charedi charities with which the funds donated do indeed reach the intended recipients.
At the same time, however, it's pretty clear how Yanky Kanievsky paid for his luxury home. It's not just Beit David that needed Rav Chaim's endorsement. It's whoever is seeking to obtain some of the power that Rav Chaim's persona wields. As another very important article in The Marker detailed:
Controlling which nonprofit will receive the rabbi's blessing and which radio station will advertise the House's activities and fundraising is worth a lot of power and money in Haredi society. In the sector, Yanki is described as the community kingmaker, the one who pulls the strings and whose authority is undisputed. He has the power to arrange who will be employed in the sector's various educational institutions, public events, political institutions, and also who will be fired and where will budgets be channeled. He recommends PRs, advertisers, producers, photographers, strategic advisors, journalists and lawyers, such that no one wants to quarrel with the House, because that could mean a loss of livelihood.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yanky Kanievsky is clearly an unsavory character, and that's even before you find out about his support of molesters. He is monetizing his grandfather's influence, with enormous sums coming from people who are under the impression that they are giving money to needy families. But that's not even the biggest problem. There is also a total lack of regard for how Rav Chaim's influence affects people. Previously, I've described how this leads to naive people having their lives destroyed - sometimes literally.
But, as I've said before, you can't only blame Yanky Kanievsky for this terrible exploitation of an elderly man. He's only able to do it because there's a willing audience for it. The responsibility lies with everyone who places Rav Chaim's "guidance" and blessings upon a pedestal on which they do not belong.
In a post I wrote titled "Mishpachah, Gedolim and Decisions" I concluded that "There are countless people who make decisions that are, at best, ill-informed, and at worst, life-threatening, because they have been led to believe that Rav Chaim Kanievsky and others like him should be making the decisions for them. Anyone who contributes to the myth of his Daas Torah shares responsibility for that."
When people call upon you for donations to a charity, and tell you that they have Rav Chaim's endorsement, this is actually a reason not to give them. Instead, give to one of the many charities that do not pay for meaningless celebrity endorsements.
Unless, that is, you want to be paying for Yanky's next luxury home.
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