SECTION B PAGE 4
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 different miracles performed by volunteers in order to celebrate Pesach without being enslaved to soaring prices in the consumer marketplace.
Statistics don’t lie. Though Israel never officially fell into the economic muck that has enveloped the USA, UK and the EU in the past five years, the number of individuals and families with children seeking economic and social welfare assistance continues to climb.
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 rely on donations, have been forced to do more with less, based on global economic realities.
However, Meir Panim’s professional staff has been able to meet the herculean task of providing Passover food baskets and personalized shopping cards to individuals and families.
The staff has also made matches for nearly 3,000 other needy individuals and “lone soldiers” who seek a communal seder.
“The unemployment rates are deceiving,” said Goldie Sternbuch, Meir Panim’s assistant direcor of overseas relations. “We have become acquainted with a new type of poor: the working poor.
“Many families who receive 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 4,000 shekels ($1,000) per month, and is trying to pay bills and feed a family with five children.”
Last year’s Passover program included:
•1,500 Passover food baskets valued at $40-50 per basket distributed in cities such as Jerusalem, Netanya, Haifa, Akko, Safed, and Dimona.
•2,000 food shopping cards, with card values ranging from $75-80 dollars, personally delivered to needy families across the country by volunteers
•The hotline of Meir Panim’s “Kulam B’Seder” ( “everyone at a Seder,” a play on the Hebrew expression, “everyone is OK”) received over 9,500 requests from needy individuals, lone soldiers and families looking to be “matched” for a seder;
Families in 90 Israeli cities and towns hosted 2,989 people (an average of three per family).
According to Meir Panim, over 3,000 people will be hosted this coming Passover.
“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,” said David Roth, president of American Friends of Meir Panim.
THE “Kulam B’Seder” campaign in particular has become a fascinating challenge for both the volunteer program managers and the families.
“It’s not just a matter of picking up the phone to a family and saying ‘so and so’ is coming,” say volunteers. “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 the mission.
The word-of-mouth about the Kulam B’Seder program is so positive that 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 other countries to serve in the IDF, 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 Passover 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.
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 volunteer said.