This Rosh Hashana, as they do every year, Israel’s leading charitable organizations picked up the mantle and rallied together to assist hundreds of thousands of needy families for the holiday season.
More than 1.7 million people – including 444,900 families and 776,500 children – live below the poverty line, accounting for 22% of the population, according to the National Insurance Institute annual Poverty Report released in December 2015.
Leket Israel – The National Food Bank announced it rescued from disposal a record 300 tons of apples for Rosh Hashana, ensuring that the needy would also be able to fulfill the holiday custom of dipping apples in honey for a sweet new year.
Due to the growing demand placed on Leket’s nonprofit partners before the holidays, the organization said it is expected to rescue more than 1,200 tons of fruit and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
This holiday season, the organization aims to feed more than 175,000 people, including the hardest hit population groups – children and Holocaust survivors.
“According to Leket Israel’s Food Waste and Rescue Report, 2.5 million tons of food go to waste each year, at a cost of NIS 18 billion,” said Joseph Gitler, Leket Israel’s founder and chairman, ahead of the holiday, “1.3 million tons of which can be rescued to benefit those in need. With the ever increasing demands on our nonprofit partners to provide more food for the growing number of Israel’s poor, it is Leket Israel’s primary mission to access this surplus to better meet the need of Israel’s food insecure.”
Gitler added that one of the great misconceptions is that while the overall economy is strong, poverty and hunger still exist in many parts of society.
“We are the Start-Up Nation, and yes, we have a flourishing middle class. However, there are still many pockets of our society where people struggle every day to put food on their tables for their families. The problem is even more acute in sectors of the country with high unemployment, and with the elderly and Holocaust survivors who live on very small pensions. They desperately need our help,” he added.
Leket Israel is the largest nonprofit food rescue organization in the country that rescues fresh and perishable food, which would otherwise be considered waste, from farms, hotels, military bases and event halls.
The organization works with 195 nonprofits to distribute the food.
The Jerusalem Pantry Packers, an initiative of the Colel Chabad Charitable Organization, the longest continuously running charity in Israel, founded in 1788, announced a record number of volunteers who came to package and prepare goods ahead of the holidays this year.
Over the course of the past few months, Pantry Packers saw some 4,500 volunteers, many of whom are tourists, at their facility who packed around 70,000 kilos of food for the needy.
“The goal of Pantry Packers is to give people an opportunity to give back, by engaging in caring for others in a way that is both fun and educational and gives people of all ages a feeling of real accomplishment,” said Rabbi Menachem Traxler, founder and director of Pantry Packers.
“This work becomes all the more important in the weeks ahead of Rosh Hashana, when the demand for our holiday food packages intensifies considerably,” he said.
According to Traxler, their efforts amounted to some 140,000 bags of food that have been distributed for the holiday.
The food baskets contain essential goods such as pasta, oil, flour, canned goods and other items to celebrate the Jewish New Year – including a jar of honey. The family also receives a voucher to buy chicken and meat at a local grocer.
Some 18,500 families will receive food staples for the holiday, in addition to 81,000 fresh and hot holiday meals being served at Colel Chabad’s soup kitchen network around the country.
This year, the organization also partnered with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews to deliver food to an additional 5,000 elderly people in need.
While Colel Chabad has become one of the leading providers of charitable support in Israel, the organization also works directly with families to wean them off of the support.
“Our message to recipients is that we will pledge to be there, whatever the need, but our main goal is to give the confidence and resources to become self-sustainable and get on the road to gainful employment and personal success,” said Rabbi Shalom Duchman, international director of Colel Chabad. “The greatest joy for us is when we can cross a family’s name off of our list.”
Latet, the humanitarian aid organization, released a survey ahead of Rosh Hashana which found nearly one in five people reported they did not eat balanced meals this past year due to financial hardships.
The organization released the findings of the survey last month as part of its new campaign, “Giving for the Holidays” (Latet, a play on words in Hebrew, is both the name of the organization and means “to give”), in which it also unveiled a large table suspended in the air in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.