7 Facts That Nobody Told You About Hunger in Israel

For Rosh Hashanah this year, I wanted to make a donation to an Israeli focused on alleviating hunger for Israel’s most vulnerable.  I did a search online and very quickly found Yad Ezra V’Shulamit. a humanitarian organization in Israel which helps needy families overcome poverty.  

I wanted to learn more about hunger in Israel so I reached out to Rabbi Aryeh Lurie, the founder and director of Yad Ezra V’Shulamit,

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up very poor in Israel.  My mother used to take cucumbers that were about to be thrown away and would pick one of them and that would be our lunch.

Every Shabbat my mother prepared a hot stew in our cold, damp house.  The first portion was given to families in need, to lonely people who waited for a warm meal. The primary concern was to give to neighbors who had nothing to eat.  I said when I grow up that I will act for the benefit of the people of Israel; For the good of Am Yisrael – the people of Israel.

How many hungry people are there in Israel? Why are so many people living in poverty?

Here are 7 facts about hunger and poverty in Israel:

  • 1.8 million people living under the poverty line
  • 842,000 children are living in poverty   
  • One out of every three children in Israel  goes to bed hungry.
  • Over 53% of children in Jerusalem are living in poverty 
  • The cost of living in Israel is very high, and the wages are low. 
  • Poverty is a real struggle for many:  
    • Seniors, including Holocaust survivors.
    • Single parent families  
    • Working families 
  • Unfortunately, today’s socio-economic environment in Israel poses many challenges in the day-to-day lives of many struggling families. It can even be difficult for middle class families to manage their basic expenditures.

While the Israeli government has several programs that assist those living below the poverty line, it is still not sufficient to ensure that all Israeli families have the food, clothing and education they need. Naturally, the consequences of this reality are devastating.

Our food distribution project serves over 3,000 needy families who all are classify as living below the poverty line according to Israel’s Ministry of Social Services and Affairs. The households include widows, orphans, holocaust survivors, handicapped, elderly, young families with children, single parents, lone soldiers, new immigrants, and families with ill, unemployed, or deceased parents.

What does Judaism say about the importance of helping the poor, specifically through food distribution?

“There will always be poor in Israel”, the sages tell us.  Why?  “So others will learn to care”.   G-d can provide everyone with everything.  However, I understand that G-d wants us to develop our ability to relate to our fellow Jew as a brother/sister and really care enough to make a difference.  If your brother/sister was hungry, you would make sure he had food. That is how we are supposed to feel about every Jewish person in need.

Another famous excerpt from the Torah in Leviticus 19:9 and 10: “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest . . . thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger”.

There are countless of other places in the Torah which are directly related to the act of feeding the poor.  We see here, the Mitzvah to leave a “corner” of a harvested field crop for the poor person.  Today, many farmers in Israel have taken upon themselves to fulfill this very important mitzvah which has aided in Yad Ezra V’Shulamit’s food distribution project. 

What are the Jewish social action values which drive and motivate you to do this work?

I can’t sleep at night knowing there are children who are hungry.  My hope is that everyone can make an effort – make it a priority to help feed Jewish children in Israel. These are all our children, our future and the future of Israel.

The mitzvah to give tzedakah (charity) requires every Jewish person to donate 10% of his/her income. G-d tells us, “Take care of Mine, and I will take care of yours.” Rashi explains, “You take care of Mine – the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, and I will take care of yours, your sons and your daughters.” It is as though G-d gives us 10% more money than is due to us, and that extra 10% should be shared with the poor.

How is Yad Ezra V’Shulamit taking care to provide families with healthy food, such as fresh food, fruit, vegetables, grains, tubers and beans?

Each food basket contains grains; fresh fruits and vegetables; and staples like flour, canned goods, oil, and other basics.   For holidays baskets have more, Rosh HaShana we provide honey and grape juice, Passover we give Matza and potatoes.   

The food baskets are delivered on Thursday afternoons, in preparation for Shabbat.

How does having plentiful and healthful food affect other aspects of a family’s life?

The food basket makes a great difference to the lives of these families. It relieves the parental stress of not knowing where the next meal will come from. Adequate nutrition is essential for a child’s success in school and in life. No one can focus on learning when their stomach is growling from hunger. A healthy diet will keep a children strong and in school.  Just meet Leah…

Leah Rivoni’s teacher was concerned.  The seven year olds lunch box never contained very much – usually a packet of potato chips and a cheap, sugary drink. Leah’s teacher began making an extra sandwich and brought fresh fruit to school for Leah. The teacher observed Leah hungrily devouring the food and knew it was time to speak to Rina, Leah’s mother.  Rina began to sob and explained to the teacher that she was a single mother with two daughters, Leah and her infant sister. Rina cleaned houses but did not make enough money to feed both daughters and herself adequately. Fortunately, the teacher knew about Yad Ezra V’Shulamit. The family signed up for weekly and holiday food baskets and an additional weekly infant basket containing formula, diapers and baby wipes. Leah is now on the waiting list for the Yad Ezra V’Shulamit’s after-school program where she will receive a hot meal once a day and academic and emotional support. We are hoping a place will open up for her at the start of the school year. 

Hundreds of thousands of children and families go without eating three proper meals per day. Hunger leads to depression, anxiety and puts kids at risk.  It is a yearlong, daily problem.  That is where Yad Ezra V’Shulamit steps in. We make sure needy children and families have enough to eat so they can function properly and break out of the cycle of poverty.

How is Yad Ezra V’Shulamit working to break the cycle of poverty, beyond food distribution?

Yad Ezra V’Shulamit is a humanitarian organization that works to provide nutritional security, educational enrichment, and social support to impoverished children, youth of immigrant families throughout Israel. The organization’s approach to combating poverty is to intervene not only on a material level (with food, money, etc.), but more importantly, to provide the tools indigent families need to break out of the cycle of poverty in which they are trapped, sometimes for generations.

We understand that poverty does not exist in a vacuum. Through our various programs, (weekly and holiday food baskets, children’s centers, feed-a baby program, assistance to single-parent families and job desk) we help more than 100,000 people annually. 

Our Food Distribution program provides needy families with an immediate solution to hunger. But that is just the beginning. Yad Ezra V’Shulamit deals with the ripple effects of poverty through various intervention and empowerment initiatives. 

The Food Distribution program is just one initiative of the many that provide immediate food relief. Nourishing, satiating sustenance is the first step in restoring health and dignity and helping families break free from the cycle of poverty.

How can people get involved and/or make a donation to your organization?

Donations can be made on our website, www.yadezra.net , by phone 1-866-978-5049 or by mail, Friends of Yad Ezra V’Shulamit 3470 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1020 Los Angeles, CA 90010 (501 C3- #46 0477228).  For donations in other countries, such as Canada or the UK, please visit our website. 

Whether it is a Jewish holiday, your birthday, wedding, anniversary or another milestone, you can include Yad Ezra V’Shulamit in your celebrations and give back to hungry children and families.

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