I never thought I was naive. I knew there were poor people in the world. The starving children in Africa featured often at our kitchen table, (especially when we left our peas untouched). But I never realized how close to home this was to me, being Jewish.
I innocently believed that real hunger was a thing of wartime, history lessons and maybe third world countries.
One Thursday evening I was rushing home, struggling with my overloaded shopping backs, filled with frozen chuck-steak, chicken breasts, green beans, strawberry yoghurts and cheese. (I had ordered all the non-perishables to be delivered the next morning to my house).
I passed a couple of distinguished looking men, with white beards. They were peering into a huge old blue crate. They were also taking things from the crate and putting them into bags. I couldn’t help but see what they were doing. In the crate were some rotting leftover vegetables from the fruit store a few steps away. These men were taking them home.
I started seeing these happening all over the place. Loaves of day-old bread left out outside the bakery, being snatched quickly by young girls, skinny teenagers and tired mothers. Frozen chickens being left by a kind soul every week after dusk in the same spot, and men hurrying to fetch one before there were none left.
I mean, the people seemed normal. They smiled at me on the street
It took me some time to realize that the average hourly wage in Israel is so low that even with two parents working full-time, for many families, the month far outlasts the money. And that means, that for single-parents, or families where—for whatever reason—one parent is out of commission, the situation can easily spiral into real, contemporary poverty.
I started feeling so helpless about the situation.
If you’re like me, you might understand that I also felt guilty.
I mean, here I was, sharing an apartment building with families who were eating plain day-old rolls for lunch, while we were biting into our juicy meat lasagna.
And that was when I realized that the situation was not out of control at all.
In fact Rabbi Davidman and his partners at the Kupa Shel Tzedakah in Ramat Beit Shemesh were working night and day to make sure that every family in the neighborhood had food to eat.
The more I spoke to him, the more I realized that he didn’t just give them money, he made everything so dignified, so people were able to take, and still feel normal.
These cards are given to families with low-income. They can use these at the grocery for bread, techina, hummus, eggs, tuna, yoghurts and other staples.
Isn’t it amazing that with a nutritious breakfast, so many children will go to school happier, have more friends and get better grades?
Every week, these families get a box with chicken, challos and other shabbos staples. So many families are now able to celebrate Shabbos, in a relaxed, joyous mood.
One of the things the Kupa is so careful about is protecting dignity. By giving people grocery ‘credit’ they can go to the grocery, purchase whatever they need, and not feel like they’re taking charity.
The Kupa arranges discrete distributions of free food staples. In fact R’ Davidman confessed, “I had no idea how hungry they were, until I saw them myself, standing in line for their loaf of bread.”
I was overwhelmed by these great people, who saw the situation and were doing everything in their power to make it better.
Rabbi Davidman: “So most of our programs: the collections, distributions, deliveries are run by the most amazing volunteers who want to be part of this. And the people running the Kupa don’t take any payment. They see it as a mitzvah.”
“And what is your budget for this every month?”
Rabbi Davidman: “Our monthly food program costs us a whopping 135,000 nis.
And I’ll be honest, it’s a huge undertaking. We rely solely on generous donations to help us keep helping our neighborhood.”
I ask him why he does this, but in my heart, I already know the answer.
He replies simply. “How can we not?”
These words ring in my ears and I don’t need a second invitation to fix a monthly donation to go to Kupa Shel Tzedakah.
135,000 nis is almost $50,000 a month. If we could just join together and all contribute a fixed amount per month, we could keep the Kupa going.
I ask R’ Davidman if he can share with me any recent stories.
R’ Davidman: There is a family where the father ran away. The mother works as much as she can, but there is a limit to what she can do. They reached out to us last week. We sent a representative to visit the house. The house was bare. She noticed that the family were eating plain bread and cottage cheese, or bread and hummus, all day, every day. They had no money for eggs, meat, chicken, or fruit and vegetables. We quickly gave them ‘grocery credit’ and ‘breakfast cards’. We also added them to our list to receive a Shabbos package.”
I think of three children, running to the door and finding a box full of food. I can almost hear their squeals when they find the Shabbos treats, lovingly packed inside the box. I am proud to be part of this community. I am proud to be Jewish. I am proud to support this wonderful Kupa, in my own small way.
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