Last week I shared with you some feelings from my recent trip to Israel.
As I sit on the plane en route back to Dallas, I want to share with you one more little-known situation in our beloved Holy Land, which struck my wife and myself profoundly, and has been haunting us.
I am referring to the abject poverty in which so many thousands of Israeli families live. In Jerusalem alone, tens of thousands live below the poverty line. Add to that the people in Sderot and other towns where many have lost their livelihoods.
On a visit to Chechnov Institutions, one organization which combats this poverty, I heard a bone-chilling story. A teacher noticed that a student wasn’t performing so well that morning, and seemed hungry. When the teacher questioned the boy, he answered, innocently, that yesterday it was his turn to have breakfast, and today it was his sister’s turn!
Contrary to widespread rumors that this situation exists only with large haredi families, poverty spans the spectrum of Israeli society, religious to secular. It exists, to a large degree, in the larger population centers, such as Jerusalem, and is prevalent in many smaller development towns.
This caused me to think about how we American Jews spend, the many luxuries we enjoy and lavish weddings, when so many of our brethren are literally starving. Even with many of our philanthropic expenditures, donations directed to myriad good and important causes perhaps need to be re-evaluated.
Would I, in good conscience, give my dollars to an arts or music center if I knew that my brother in Cleveland just lost his job and doesn’t have food on the table for himself, his wife and children?
The Talmud says that if one is faced by two situations of poverty, one a Jew in his own city and the other in a different city, “aniyei ircha kodmim,” one’s own city takes precedence. Halachic authorities, however, have ruled that the poor of Israel are considered as the poor in one’s own city.
In times like these, surrounded by dangers and threats to the survival of Israel, including proclamations to wipe it off the map Heaven forbid, this is a special time to perform acts of chesed (lovingkindness) and tzedakah.
One could contact the Jewish Federation and see how to have a donation earmarked for the poor in Israel.
My family and I visited two institutions in Israel that provide the basics for poverty-stricken families.
Chechnov Institutions provides education for over 1,000 children of all ages and also with food; many of them otherwise eat only what they receive in school for the day. They help these children with shoes, reading glasses — in short, anything they see the students need. They run a food kitchen which provides hundreds of families with Shabbat meals. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and will send English brochures and CDs illustrating their work.
The other is Yad Eliezer, a fabulous, award-winning institution providing food pantries, kitchens and multiple additional services for men, women and children throughout Israel. I recommend looking them up at www.yadeliezer.org.
Although we can’t change the situation overnight, everyone we help makes a huge difference!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.