Meir Panim’s Innovations Enables Indigent Israeli Families to Celebrate Pesach In-Style
While the ancient Israelites were miraculously able to rid themselves of back-breaking bondage and enter the Promised Land with the riches taken from their Egyptian taskmasters, hundreds of thousands of less fortunate Jews in modern day Israel, have had to rely upon the every-day miracles performed by Meir Panim’s angelic volunteers in order to celebrate Pesach without being enslaved by the soaring prices in the consumer marketplace.
Statistics don’t lie. Though Israel never officially fell into the economic muck, which has enveloped the USA, UK and the EU during the past five years, the number of individuals and families with children seeking economic and social welfare assistance from the government, as well as outreach organizations continues to climb in an unabated fashion. Over a quarter of Israel’s population currently lives below the poverty line!
To make matters worse, many Israeli outreach organizations such as Meir Panim, which are reliant on donations from the USA, UK and EU have been forced to do more with less based on global economic realities. However, Meir Panim, which has been lauded for their innovative social welfare programs, is blessed with a phalanx of talented individuals in the Holy Land. Meir Panim’s professional staff have been able to meet the herculean task of providing Pesach food baskets and personalized shopping cards to individuals and families in need, as well as creating “shidduchim” (matches) for nearly 3,000 other needy individuals and “lone soldiers” seeking a communal seder or with individual families who wish to perform the mitzvah of “hachnasat orchim”, by hosting someone.
“The unemployment rates are deceiving. We have become acquainted with a new type of poor: the working poor. Many families who are receiving our assistance have at least one head of family working. For instance, in Kiryat Malachi we have a family whose children attend our after school hours club. The father is gainfully employed at a nearby factory but only earns about 4000 shekels ($1000) per month, and is trying to pay bills and feed a family with five children, “revealed Goldie Sternbuch, Meir Panim’s, Assistant Director of Overseas Relations.
In order to understand the scope and breadth of Meir Panim’s unique pre-Pesach outreach, last year’s program highlighted:
•1,500 bountiful Pesach food baskets valued at $40-50 per basket were distributed in cities such as Jerusalem, Netanya, Haifa, Akko (Acre), Safed (Tzfat), Dimona etc.
•2,000 food shopping cards, with card values ranging from $75-80 dollars were personally delivered to needy families across the country by organizational volunteers
•Meir Panim’s “Kulam B’Seder” ( everyone at a Seder- a play on a popular Hebrew expression that means ‘everyone is OK’) campaign hotline received over 9,500 requests from needy individuals, lone soldiers and families looking to be “matched” for a festive seder; Families in 90 Israeli cities and towns hosted 2,989 needy people (average of 3 people hosted per family). According to Meir Panim over 3,000 people will be hosted this coming Pesach. “It is especially meaningful for us as individuals and as an organization to be able to assist people in need during one of the most important holiday seasons, by inviting them to our seder table,” added David Roth, President of American Friends of Meir Panim.
The “Kulam B’Seder” campaign in particular has become a fascinating challenge for both Meir Panim’s volunteer program managers, as well as the families. “It’s not just a matter of picking up the phone to a family and saying ‘so and so’ is coming. Remember, this is Israel where there are so many different types of Jews with different traditions, so it becomes a fascinating task for us to create a ‘shidduch’ for instance between an older Moroccan man with a Moroccan family that will have a seder in the North African tradition. This will also enable the hosts to make their guest (s) feel comfortable and create a long-term bond, which is the essence of this mission,” said one of Meir Panim’s hard-working volunteers. “The word-of-mouth about the Kulam B’Seder program is so positive that there is a real dynamism in play. There are hundreds of families across Israel who literally beg us to let them host people in need. Lone soldiers, who have left their families behind in a number of countries, in order to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and have nowhere to go for the seder, are especially popular with families who wish to provide them with a welcoming atmosphere and a festive meal. There are also families who every year celebrate Pesach in a local hotel. Some of them actually order an extra room so they can host guests and call us to make sure we send someone.”
Unfortunately, there are so many people who are in need of accommodations for Pesach that it’s difficult for a Meir Panim staff member to say ‘no’ to someone. “Because we don’t want to leave anyone behind without a seder, we’ll work right up until the last moment to make sure someone has a place to celebrate, whether it’s a public seder or someone’s home,” a Meir Panim volunteer added.
By Shlomo Stephens
For more information on how you can contribute to Meir Panim’s Pesach programs visit www.meirpanim.org.