If we hadn't seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn't have believed it.
A tiny, two-room apartment. Four children slept on thin mattresses on the floor, trying to keep warm with the help of four thin woolen blankets. In their sleep, the children gravitated toward one another, huddling together, and their mother covered them with all four blankets. Even four blankets, however, were not enough to protect the children from the cold floor or the cold blowing from the inadequately sealed windows. There was no heater in the house, not even in the bathroom. And even if there had bee, there was no money to run it…
Four children, just like yours and mine. Four children whose pictures smiled at us from the walls: handsome children with intelligent eyes and kind expressions on their faces. And it is so cold there… it so cold!
If we hadn't seen it, we wouldn't have believed that in Israel of 2013 there are still children who suffer from cold at home. But it is the naked truth.
Last year, tens of thousands of contributors arranged a fundraiser for the purpose of buying blankets for Israeli children. Special distribution lines were opened at factories, who reduced their prices for the cause. The workers worked in shifts to complete the blankets as quickly as possible, because everyone knew where the blankets were headed. The blankets were wrapped in plastic as soon as they left the factories, still "fresh and warm" as rolls. They were tied with colorful ribbons and sent directly to the children of needy families.
The response was so strong, so overwhelming, that it was impossible not to cry. The children jumped at the blankets, hugging them, dancing with them, cuddling with them. There was something intoxicating about seeing these young children glow with delight and irrepressible joy. Their joy literally poured forth from their faces, filling the air. Their mothers stood to the side and wiped their tears, and even the delivery people could not remain indifferent.
A child embracing a blanket! How cold, how sad, how deprived a child must be to hug a blanket like that, to dance about the house with it!
But that was the reality, and the same heartbreaking scene repeated itself over and over again. It was impossible to remain indifferent in the face of such unbridled joy, in the face of the significance of what was behind it.
These children need coats, too. Good winter coats, the kind with hoods they can use in the rain (there's no chance of them getting an umbrella…). They need to be protected from the wind and sleet. These children walk to and from school each day, and even if they're lucky enough to have rubber boots to protect their feet from the puddles, they need coats to keep them warm. They walk half an hour each way, and when they don't have a coat… it's awful, simply awful.
How can we sit in our warm homes, the heating system we have effectively banishing the winter from indoors, when these children are lugging heavy, waterlogged briefcases without so much as a decent coat?
They need coats, good coats – and the fundraiser will provide them. We're not looking for anything fancy. Just warm and durable, to protect them from the elements.
When a child has a coat with which to walk to and home from school, when he has a good blanket to cuddle under at night – then we can relax as well. Then we can look at our own children without feeling our hearts contract with anguish over the children who have no one to provide for them.
We will provide for those children. They make do with so little. They need so little – and we can provide them with the little they need!
A blanket for a child, a coat for a child – and a food coupon for the parents. So that they should be able to buy some chicken wings and cook a pot of nutritious soup. So that they should be able to buy some oranges to protect he children from winter illnesses.
That's all. It's a powerful threesome: a blanket, a coat, and a coupon. These are the three things the fundraiser will accomplish.
Last year, we reached many, many families – families who began the winter this year with great celebration as they unpacked last year's quilts from storage and reveled in the caressing touch of support, love, and concern. And this year? This year, many additional families are waiting.
What do we have to give them?
What can we do for them?
Usually, we're told to place ourselves in the shoes of the needy families, to try and feel what they're going through, because only then can we truly understand them and know how to help. This time, to fulfill this recommendation, you've got to remove your jacket and step out into the cold. No umbrella, no gloves, no sweater. Just stay outside for a few minutes. No doubt you'll feel differently after that experience. What you just read will touch you more deeply. A more difficult test would be to endure one night – one – without a blanket. Just one night, so you'll feel what these young children, born into lives of poverty and suffering, endure on a steady basis. Do we have the fortitude to spend a night without a blanket, trembling with cold? Do we know what it feels like to lie in bed with chattering teeth, defenseless against the chill?
It's hard. It's very hard. It's much harder to live this way night after night, as a child, especially when you have to try and hide your trembling body from your mother because you know it kills her to see it.
There are children in Eretz Yisrael who go through this! This is how they feel! When they see the clouds gathering in the sky, and at school their teachers say that rain is a blessing and we ought to pray for more so the Kinneret will fill up and the produce will grow – the bite their lips and refrain from praying. They know that rain means cold, and they are defenseless against the cold. They know that rain brigs with it winter illnesses, and they don't have any fever-reducing medication at home.
There are more children in this situation than you would believe. Even with last year's huge campaign, which completely revolutionized the sleeping arrangements in so many homes and brought so much joy to so many bleak hearts – there are still many, many families who are waiting.
50,000 blankets. That is this year's goal. 50,000 good, warm blankets: how many of them will you contribute?
Two thousand coats have already been collected and are on their way to being distributed. But that's a drop in the bucket. There are still so many children who are waiting. Waiting for a coat, a blanket, and a food coupon so there will be nutritious food for the winter. We can't make them wait. We can't allow them to suffer like that. These children are growing up now. They're building their outlook on life. In another twenty years, they will be fathers in their own right: what kind of lives will they provide for their children?
Cold robs a person of his ability to think, to be rational. It freezes feelings of warmth and cools off love and enthusiasm. When it's cold, all you can think about is warding off the terrible chill. Will they grow up to be tense, tough, withdrawn adults?
By giving them blankets and coats and coupons, we're enabling them to open their hearts wide. They'll grow up and become warm, giving youths and then adults. Their children will merit happy parents – and that, too, will be in our merit!
So let's get a move on… a blanket, a coat, and a food coupon! How many children would you like to delight? How many families?
Please, now, it's urgent!
"Ima, I'm so cold." Chani peeked out of her bed, her large, black eyes twin pools of sadness. "Ima, brrr… it's so c-c-cold!"
Ima came in from the kitchen and wrapped Chani more tightly in her thin blanket. "I'll find something else to cover you with," she promised, returning a moment later with a quilt cover.
Chani watched closely, her eyes following her mother's every move. The wind rattled the windows and when thunder boomed, the entire building seemed to shake. She was afraid.
"Last year, we had a kerosene heater," she whispered wistfully. They owned a kerosene heater that was generations old, but it housed a bright yellow flame that had warmed the house even as the odor of kerosene filled the air. Sometimes, Ima used to sit near the heater with her knitting, and the children would bring their blankets and settle down on the rug near her. She would tell them a story, and that's how they'd fall asleep, huddled together and enjoying the pleasant warmth. On those nights, no one had been frightened by the thunder. They had felt so protected, so safe.
"I didn't take the heater out of storage this year," Ima sighed. "It's not easy to get hold of kerosene these days. Last year, Abba managed to get hold of it somehow, and he would deal with the wicks and light the heater. Oh, he was an expert at it. I don't really know what to do, and besides, where would I find kerosene?"
Chani knew that the real reason was that ever since Abba passed away, Ima had little interest in anything. It was only after Abba had been killed in a horrific accident that they had suddenly realized how dark and cold their house was, that the bathroom was moldy and the kitchen faucets dripped incessantly. When Abba was alive, everything had been warm and pleasant and happy.
Chani's mother can't afford to buy another blanket. The thin blankets, which had been adequate when a kerosene heater had warmed their apartment, can't keep the children warm without it. They feel cold in bed – and cold in their hearts. Their father is gone, and with him went the sweetness and innocence of their childhood.
In Shimon's house, too, there is no Abba, and in Itzik's house, there is no Ima. Many homes in Eretz Yisrael are cold. Just plain cold. Living expenses are high, and single parents or families coping with a medical problem are simply unable to purchase basic necessities such as quilts. A child who is cold is a child who is lonely and sad, no matter how many kind words are showered on him. Cold penetrates the bones and destroys a child's pure, innocent soul.
Last year, Kupat Ha'ir spearheaded a "warm" fundraiser: "That No Child in Israel Be Cold." A huge collection was organized under this campaign, both in France and other places, and many contributions came in. Kupat Ha'ir enlisted factories to operate a special line to produce good, warm quilts, and these quilts were then personally delivered to homes where the children were suffering from the cold.
And the response? Heartbreaking doesn't come close to describing the children's reactions. Have you ever seen a child receive a remote-control helicopter? Isn't it touching to see child so, so excited he can barely contain his joy? Imagine a child that happy with… a blanket, a plain, ordinary blanket. Your heart contracts with pain. A blanket! Most kids don't give their blankets a second thought. What's a blanket to them? Maybe their parents feel good when they buy one, knowing their child will be warm and cozy – but a child?
But when a child goes to sleep night after night covered by a pile of rags, or sheets and quilt covers that do little to ward off the chill; when a child goes to sleep every night wearing his jacket or his mother's coat - when such a child receives a blanket, he dances with joy. He hugs the blanket, rolls it around himself, and wants to go to sleep that very instant just to feel the warmth spreading through his body and his heart. It's unthinkably terrible that nowadays, there are still children suffering from cold!
But there are such children, many such children. This year, too, Kupat Ha'ir is organizing a similar campaign. "A Coat, A Blanket, and a Food Coupon" – three gifts that must be granted to every poverty-stricken family. A coat for children who don't have one, as many blankets as are needed, and a food coupon with which to buy food. Only when we give every needy family this all-important three-part gift will we be able to relax in the warmth of our own homes with the feeling of inner joy that comes from helping those less fortunate than us.
"A Coat, A Blanket, and a Food Coupon" are basic necessities. A child without a coat is a child who grows up sad and depressed. A child who lacks a blanket is a child whose body and soul feel cold, and it's impossible to have a happy childhood when you're cold. And a home without food is a miserable home. These people, who live in such miserable conditions, are our brothers. Our brothers across the sea. They are dear to us; their children are our children, too – how can we let them endure another such a winter?
We must rally together for their sake. We must see to out that our messengers go from address to address on the list and hand each child a blanket tied with a huge bow to express our warm embrace – an embrace sent from across the sea.
To how many children will you be sending a warm winter embrace?
Years from now, when you think back to this winter, it'll be a mere blip in your memory. Your bank balance will have been x or y; your house will have needed this renovation or that repair; you'll have participated in this event or that occasion to which you'll have worn your black suit or maybe your purple one. You won't remember the details. But you'll always remember, forever and ever, the sparkling eyes of a small Jewish child from Eretz Yisrael who had been lacking a blanket and a coat until you provided them for him. You'll remember forever, deep down in your heart, how you took a frozen, wounded child and sent him running outside to show off his new coat to all his friends. And it's not just the coat per se that he'll be showing them, but the fact that he, too, is just like everyone else. He's not to be pitied; he's not one class beneath everyone else – he, too, has a new coat!
This you will never forget. The child's joyful eyes will accompany you wherever you go. They will infuse you with strength and a feeling of self-worth. One who purchases a coat and a blanket for a child who lacks them is not the same person as one who has never had this merit.
Not only children are suffering. There are elderly people, sick people, and expectant women, too, who lack these basics. These needy people are crying out to you – only to you, for if you won't give, they will simply go without.
Our goal this winter is 50,000 blankets. You read that right. Fifty thousand people are cold at night, and you, through our joint fundraiser, will provide them with warmth and joy. Fifty thousand blankets… how many of them will be from you?
Soon you'll switch off your computer and go home for the night. Soon you'll shut the light in your home office and step out to join your family. You, too, once had small children; you have them today; or you hope to have some one day. Your own children, or others dear to your heart. Can you picture them trembling with cold, coatless, on a rainy day? Can you imagine them huddled into balls in the corner of their beds as they try to find some warmth in thin sheets and empty quilt covers? Surely, you want to provide the children in your life with warmth, sweetness and pleasantness. Surely you want them to have a good, warm blanket, the kind that pads the night with pleasant dreams. Surely, you want them to have a good quality coat to keep them healthy even in the cold winter.
Please, grant the same privilege to the children in Eretz Yisrael from poverty-stricken families. Give at least one child a blanket and a coat; give at least one family a coupon with which to buy food. It's so little, when you face the shocking numbers, but it's so much when you think of one small child. We can't do everything, but we can illuminate the eyes of one precious child and his family.