I have asked the good people of the Books for Israel Project to try to get
word out about the situation of poverty in Israel. Indeed, it is so
to get books out to all our children and to raise English language
for the strength of our country's future. But we are facing an extremely
difficult problem right now, a problem of hungry children in Israel. And
hungry children cannot study well, even with the best of books.
I'd like if I may, to appeal to your generosity to help people in Israel
who are in need, desperate need. Terrorism has eroded the Israeli
economy and in addition to the general economic slowdown being
experienced world-wide, the dearth in tourism and the high expenses
of security have had far-reaching effects on the economy as a whole.
Unemployment is on the rise and families and the elderly who thought
they could manage are suddenly finding themselves unable to survive.
According to the statistics released by the Israeli Government "Bituach
Leumi" (social security), approximately one third of all of Israel's
are now living under the poverty line.
There are approximately 40,000 people living below the poverty line
in Haifa alone, 15% of our population. Adults above 65 who have no
receive 1,600 shequels (approximately $360) per month from the Israeli
Social Security (Bituah Leumi) to live on. Those under 65 who cannot work,
many of them physically ill or disabled by birth, disease, or
accidents, receive less, approximately 1,300 shequels ($300) per month;
moreover, we have an increasing number of families with 2, 3 or more
who are living on scarcely twice that amount.
It is not merely difficult to live on sums like this; it is often simply
By far the largest charity operation trying to cope with the needs of
these people in Haifa and the north is Yad Ezer L'Haver (Helping Hand to
Friend), an entirely independent volunteer organization founded 3 years
a man named Shimon Sabag who began to fund it with funds he collected
after he survived a car accident. The charity is supported exclusively by
private donations. It is not affiliated with any political party or other
institution or organization, and since everyone associated with Yad Ezer
L'Haver is an unpaid volunteer, all proceeds, with a strong emphasis on
go directly to the needy.
Yad Ezer L'Haver operates two soup or meal-kitchens in Haifa,
providing hot meals each day to more than 300 people, most of whom,
if they did not eat at these centers, simply would not eat at all.
The organization provides sandwiches for over 700 school children
every day and delivers food and food supplies--bread, potatoes, oil,
to hundreds of needy families each week. On an ad hoc basis, the amuta
also pays emergency medical or utility bills to those whose meager incomes
cannot conceivably meet such payments.
Yad Ezer L'Haver also operates a used furniture and clothing
warehouse, all of whose contents are donated. We recently ran a program
"a bed for every child" where we were collecting used children's beds and
matresses and distributed these to families in need. In the face of
increasing local poverty and unemployment and the harsh weather
Yad Ezer L'Chaver now runs a shelter for the homeless, currently housing
40 impoverished people who would otherwise be living on the street in cold
In the face of the growing hunger amongst the children of impoverished
families in Haifa, the group decided that something must be done to
enable these children to survive the current period and be equipped to
live constructive lives. On December 22, 2003 Yad Ezer L'Haver
its latest and largest project, Bet Hayeled (Children's House). Bet
a two-story structure in downtown Haifa, recently renovated by volunteer
efforts, donated supplies, and funds raised locally for this project. The
building was dedicated to the late Bertie Rubins, mother of one of Yad
L'Haver's principal supporters, and to Mark and Naomi Bianu, who died in
terrorist bombing at Maxim's restaurant in October, 2003. Mark, a reporter
with a local television station and a student in the Communications Dept.
the University of Haifa, was a dedicated and impassioned advocate of Yad
reporting constantly and sympathetically on its activities in the press.
was 29 years old when he and his wife were murdered in the explosion.
Beit HaYeled accommodates some 200 children every week day of the week.
The children who participate are those who have been selected by their
schools on the basis of extreme need. Volunteer teachers and education
specialists work with the children and are available for providing
in a wide variety of subjects on the second floor. We also have a few
computers that have been donated to us and repaired by volunteers
for the children's use in dong their homework. The children are also
in the use of computers in the computer room downstairs. These
indeed any child who comes to us and wishes to share a meal with us-- are
a warm meal. There are shelves of blankets, school equipment,
dry food goods and clothing in a separate room, which the parents of these
children may take for the asking. Several nights each week, from 8PM to
Bet Hayeled offers supervised activities to teenage "children at risk."
The purpose is to take these poor children off the streets and provide
with more constructive and less dangerous activities than they're likely
to find or be looking for outside.
This are all, I hope you'll agree, extremely important services, of vital
importance to those who receive them. All the food for the hot meals
provided at the soup kitchens is generously supplied by the Israeli army
who has chosen Yad Ezer L'Chaver as the charity worth their volunteer
assistance and help. However, the organization's other expenses--
principally delivering food and sandwiches, electricity, cooking fuel,
rent and vehicle maintenance--come to 25,000 shequels
(approximately $5,500) per month. Given the deteriorating economic
situation, it's very difficult to raise money for charities here although
we are glad that there are many willing volunteers to help.
Since the economic crisis has hit almost everyone, as the problem of
poverty and hardship grows, the means of solving it erode.
In other words, as the number of poor and needy increases,
the number of people once able and willing to help them diminishes.
For this reason we are turning to friends of Israel, asking you to be
so that our people can be strong and given examples of how they can join
together and help one another to overcome mutual hardships.
With your help we can enable our people to get through these hard times
and prepare them, by example and guidance to live together in constructive
and mutually supportive ways.
Yad Ezer does not discriminate on any basis whatever.
Whoever turns to us for help receives it, no questions asked.
In addition to supplying the needy at the Jewish schools of Haifa,
we also supply Christian and Muslim Arab schools with sandwiches for their
neediest children. At our soup kitchens you will find religious and
secular Jews, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Ethiopian and Russian immigrants,
Christians, Muslims, and others. This is one of the few soup kitchens in
Israel that encourages these different groups to come together, to break
bread together, and to help one another in serving one another and
maintaining the place for everyone's benefit. At Bet Hayeled there
are almost as many Christians and Muslims as there are Jewish children
in daily attendance. This is one of the few places in Israel where these
children meet, learn and play together and, we're pleased to add, get
very well, learning a language of tolerance, mutual respect, and mutual
Israel is under attack and is trying to be strong and find a way to a
better and brighter future. Please help us to enable our people to
be strong enough to survive these times and learn to help themselves
by helping one another.
Donations in the United States are tax deductible if made to the Skokie
Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue in Skokie, Illinois, which has generously
made itself available for this purpose. Anyone wishing to make such a
contribution may send his or her donation to:
Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue
8825 East Prairie Road, Skokie, IL 60076.
Please make out your checks to the synagogue and add the words
"Soup Kitchen" to the name on the check, which would then read:
Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue -- Soup Kitchen.
For more information about Yad Ezer L'Haver, please visit our web site at
www.yadezer.org. The site is going to be updated in the near future
but this is slow because, as with everything else, the work on the site is
voluntary and donated. Site space has been donated by a section of the
Ministry of Welfare (formerly the Ministry of Labor and Welfare),
hence the official address on many of the pages reads "Labor" or
"Welfare" because these were in the original government site.
In the event you're planning a trip to Israel and would
like to volunteer at Bet Hayeled or one of our soup kitchens, please let
know. We can certainly use your help. I've distributed food at our soup
kitchens on more than one occasion. It's a saddening experience to see how
many people are dependent on soup kitchens for their daily meals, but a
rewarding one as well.
Thanks very much for your help. Israel's poor, a growing number sinking
more and more deeply into poverty and debt, need it desperately.
Professor of Poetry at Haifa University
and volunteer with Yad Ezer L'Chaver