‘What are you dressing up as this Purim?’ is an oft-repeated question in the weeks preceding this eagerly-anticipated festival. Purim is one of those holidays loved by both children and adults alike. It needs relatively little preparation and is filled with fun, food, and lots of celebration. Kids look forward to the treats they’ll receive in the form of mishloach manot, and competing with their friends over who has the best costume. For many needy children in Israel, however, these simple luxuries cannot be taken for granted. This is something that leading Israeli relief organization, Meir Panim, is seeking to redress.
“I initiated this project in 2004 after discovering one of the children who attended the Meir Panim after-school club crying his eyes out one day,” explains Ilanit Hafuta, Director of the Meir Panim branch in Ohr Akiva (situated 55km north of Tel Aviv). “I asked him why he was so upset and he looked up at me with these large, tearful eyes and said that he was embarrassed to attend his school Purim party because he had no costume to wear and his family had no money to buy him one.” Hafuta decided then and there that every single child in the community who needed it would have something to wear that Purim, and today, nine years later, over 100 children in Ohr Akiva alone proudly boast their chosen Purim outfit. “The idea that any child should be embarrassed to go to school because they don’t have what to dress up in, is heartbreaking. Now, not only does each child have a costume, but we do our very best to provide them with their dream costume.”
More than just fancy dress, Meir Panim strives to create a festive Purim atmosphere in each of its seven branches. From Kiryat Malachi in the south to Tiberius in the north, hundreds of Israel’s most disadvantaged children, families and elderly people are given the opportunity to listen to the megilah together, eat together and celebrate together, worry free. “Visit any community in Israel on Purim and you’ll see crowded streets packed with people happily running from house to house visiting friends and family, showing off their costumes and delivering food gifts,” continues Hafuta. “For those who can’t afford to provide even the simplest of necessities for their families, holidays can be an especially painful time. Meir Panim enables these people to ‘feel like everyone else’ and join in the national celebrations in a dignified and warm atmosphere.”
Other services Meir Panim provides include: meals-on-wheels for the homebound; meals for children; vocational training for the unemployed; youth clubs for at-risk children; and clothing, furniture and home appliances for the needy. For more information about Meir Panim.