While Passover is naturally associated with a holiday that brings together families in a spirit of Jewish unity, freedom and celebration, it is an undeniable fact that the holiday is also about “being without.”
Specifically, for seven days each year, we rid ourselves of all bread and other products defined as chametz, and we have to do without.
Many people view this as a major inconvenience, and the idea of having to go for a whole week without their favorite sandwich or bagel is viewed as a real challenge.
Without mitigating people’s love for their bread, I would argue that perhaps this realization should help us understand that there are hundreds of thousands of people across Israel – many of them children – who are deprived of such a basic luxury, not just one week each year, but every single day.
I agree that it’s hard to imagine how a simple sandwich could be out of the budget of so many people. But that is the reality of poverty in Israel today. Homes across the country, even in areas that we would assume are middle-class, are defined by empty pantries and refrigerators. These families are entirely dependent on the generosity of charitable organizations or the availability of welfare funds.
For such families, that basic sandwich is really something special.
On top of that, in Israeli society, a child’s sandwich is not just a nutritional staple, it’s a cultural one as well.
Every morning in school, the class pauses for a mid-morning meal called aruchat esser (the 10 o’clock meal). Children happily pull from their bags a sandwich that was prepared for them at home. But as noted, many children are forced to come to school without food, and look on with envy – and hunger – as their friends are able to indulge in their meals. These young children often make excuses, or leave the classroom, so that others will not notice that they are lacking.
It was this recognition that inspired the creation of Nevet several years ago. Indeed, the idea was relatively simple: Provide as many children as possible with a sandwich that can give them both nutrition and a sense of belonging.
But when we recognized how many children face this need, the challenge was far more complex.
Today, we distribute over 8,000 sandwiches each day, and more requests are constantly flowing into our office.
But the response we have received gives us the inspiration to increase our efforts. Teachers and principals say that previously hungry children are being instilled with a sense of greater self-confidence, improved academic performance, and even a greater sense of social acceptance.
Yes, just from a simple sandwich.
So we know that it might not be easy to forego your favorite bread over Passover. But we only miss it because we take it for granted that there will be bread waiting for us as soon as the holiday is over.
This Passover, let’s all take a minute to think what it might be like to have a bread-free existence, not just for a day or a week, but for the entire year.
That’s an existence we are hoping to change in the lives of Israel’s children, and with your help we can make it happen.
The writer is the CEO of Nevet-Sandwich for Every Child.