I would like to share with you a little-known situation in our beloved Holy Land.
The unfortunate situation I am referring to is the abject poverty that so many thousands of Israeli families live in. In Jerusalem alone, tens of thousands of families live below the poverty line. Add to that the population in Sderot and many other towns in the Negev and elsewhere throughout the country, and so many have lost their livelihoods and are subjected to lives of poverty.
On a visit to one organization which combats this poverty, Chechnov Institutions, I heard a bone-chilling story. A teacher in one of its schools noticed that a student wasn’t performing so well that morning and seemed hungry. Upon questioning the boy, he answered, innocently, that yesterday it was his turn to have breakfast and today it was his sister’s turn.
Unlike widespread rumors that this situation exists only with large Haredi families, the truth is that poverty spans the spectrum of Israeli society, from religious to secular. It exists, to a large degree, in the larger population centers, such as Jerusalem and is prevalent in many of the smaller development towns.
This caused me to do a lot of thinking about how we American Jews are doing our spending — the many luxuries we enjoy, the lavish weddings — when so many of our brethren are literally going to bed hungry. Even with regards to many of our philanthropic expenditures, donations that are 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 own brother in Cleveland just lost his job and doesn’t have food on the table for himself, his wife and children? We need to view every Jew as our own brother or sister.
The Talmud says that if one is faced by two situations of poverty, one is a Jew in his own city and the other resides in a different city, “Aniyei Ircha Kodmim,” meaning that the poor of one’s own city take precedence over those of another city (Talmud, Tractate Bava Metziah 7a and Sifri Parshas Re’eh 116). The authorities of Jewish law have ruled that the poor of the Land of Israel are considered “Aniyei Ircha,” as the poor in one’s own city (Shulchan Aruch, Yareh Deah 251:3).
In times like those that we live in, surrounded by dangers and threats to the survival of Israel, including proclamations to wipe it off the map, Heaven forfend, this is a special time to perform acts of chesed, loving kindness and tzedakah.
One could contact the Jewish Federation and see how to have a donation earmarked for the poor in Israel. If you would like to contact me, I will be happy to provide you with the names of worthy organizations in Israel who are valiantly attempting to turn the tide and provide basic needs for poverty-stricken families of all backgrounds and affiliations.
Although we can’t change the situation overnight, every person we help makes a huge difference to that person.