For a holiday marked by generosity, banks across Borough Park stock up on cash

For Purim giving, banks provide for everyone’s preferences — half-dollar coins, two-dollar bills, hundreds and fifties

Credit: Shtetl

Mar 19, 2024 6:00 PM


Purim in Borough Park means many things: hamantaschen, shalach manos, kids in colorful costumes and men who’ve had several whiskeys too many. Also: helpless adults accosted by throngs of charity-collecting kids — or adults, for that matter — to whom, by order of the Talmud, you cannot say no.

For Haredim, Purim is one of the biggest days for giving charity, including the fun tradition of dispensing cash in unusual denominations, such as half-dollar coins, two-dollar bills, and fat wads of crisp fifties and hundreds for the show-offs. The savvy charity collector might whip out a nifty credit card swiping device, but for many, on Purim, cash is still king.

For the many banks lining 13th Avenue, Borough Park’s bustling thoroughfare, Purim marks the finale to a weekslong effort to secure all that cash — paper and coin — which will be handed out in prodigious amounts throughout the holiday.

“In our community in Borough Park, Purim is the biggest holiday for new money,” banker Meir Shaulov told Shtetl. He worked at Metropolitan Commercial Bank, near 51st Street, before moving to Valley Bank, near 45th Street. At the former company, “it was crazy,” Shaulov said. “At least a month before Purim, we already started to take orders. Each customer, each congregation, what they want, how much they want.”

More than anything, Purim is a holiday of generosity, following the ordinance declared in the Megilla, the biblical book of Esther, for Purim to be a holiday of mishloach manot, sending food baskets, and matanot le’evyonim, granting gifts to the poor. Jewish law, therefore, requires that everyone give money to at least two poor people. 

But who’s to know who’s really poor? The Talmud, in rather un-Talmudic fashion, keeps it simple: “All who ask are given.”

And so, many are far more generous than required by law or tradition. The spirit of giving is so strong that kids on the street just “stick out their hands, and you give them money,” said Mindy Schaper, who grew up in Borough Park. 

Parviz Sultanov, the manager of TD Bank near 46th Street, once saw a perfect embodiment of the festivities: “A couple of years ago, a person dressed as an ATM and was giving away cash!”

Some of the specific denominations are more than mere whim. According to tradition, three half-dollar coins are given to charity on the eve of Purim, before the reading of the Megilla, to commemorate the half-shekel donation to the Mishkan, or tabernacle, given by the Israelites in the desert during biblical times.

The banks Shtetl reached out to for this article said they start ordering bills and coins, including the more unusual ones, anywhere from a week to a month in advance of Purim. 

David Weinstein, the branch manager of Flushing Bank near 47th Street, said the bank places orders with a money center, a bank that serves other banks. If they don’t have the money on hand, they request it from a source, such as another bank. “Sometimes they have money and sometimes they can themselves even order, or they can circulate from different banks,” Weinstein said. “They send it to us if they have availability and inventory.”

At Metropolitan, Shaulov said, the bank “would order 100,000 [dollars in] coins and new bills” in shipments that arrived twice a week in the lead up to Purim.

While a coin shortage that began during COVID-19 made it harder for banks to meet the Purim demand, that shortage is now over. “We’re back to normal,” Shaulov said. Let the giving begin.