A long line of benevolence

Israel prizewinner Bracha Kapach will be providing holiday food packages for the 52nd year.

Rabbanit (photo credit: Adam Ross)
(photo credit: Adam Ross)
here are signs on the door with the list of opening hours. There is a steady stream of people registering for kimha d’pas’ha, food traditionally donated to the poor at Passover.
I am in Nahlaot at the home of Rabbanit Bracha Kapach, the wife of the late, great Rabbi Yosef Kapach, after whom the street is now named. But to describe her as the wife of a great rabbi does not do her justice.
This is the only home in Israel where both husband and wife have each been awarded the prestigious Israel Prize – the rabbi for his monumental works in the field of Torah literature, and his wife for her remarkable acts of charity.
When I arrive at the house, I find a smartly dressed man sitting on the porch with a list of names and numbers. He explains that the rabbanit is resting, as she is not feeling well. Nevertheless, he invites me into the apartment. A retired business manager from Kiryat Ono, he is Arieh Kapach, 68, the couple’s youngest son.
The apartment is modest but full of warm mementos, including a collection of eight brass Yemenite teapots. A doorway leading from the lounge area is adorned with about 15 certificates and awards of appreciation.
Rabbi Yosef Kapach was raised by his grandfather, Yemen’s leading Torah scholar Rabbi Yehiya Kapach. At the age of 14, he inherited his grandfather’s position as the rabbinic authority of Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a. Aware that unmarried men over 16 and without living parents would be drafted into the army, he married his cousin Bracha, who was 11. Seven years later, they set out for was then Palestine with three children, one of whom died en route.
Arieh was born in Palestine.
In Israel, Rabbi Kapach served as a judge in the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
He crowned a prolific life in the field of Torah literature with his translation of the works of Maimonides, including the Guide for the Perplexed, commentary on the Mishna, and a 24-volume set of Maimonides’s magnum opus, the Mishne Torah. It was for this work that Kapach was awarded the Israel Prize for Jewish Studies in 1969. He served as the head of Israel’s Yemenite Jewish community and died in 2000 at age 82.
At first, the rabbanit ran a successful embroidery business, employing some 50 Yemenite women who had also immigrated to Israel. That soon gave way to a fulltime dedication to helping those in need.
THIS IS the 52nd year that she will be supplying Jerusalem’s needy with food for the holiday. Her son says that when she was at full strength, the number of food packages she donated reached 7,000. Now, the number of packages has dropped to 2,000 to 3,000.
This year, the project will cost about NIS 150,000, with families receiving packages containing matza, wine, oil, sugar, rice, dates, raisins, coffee, cocoa, chocolate powder and tea.
The food is packaged by approximately 30 student volunteers and is given to anyone who comes to ask. One or two packages are allocated per family, depending on the size. Every year, six or seven police officers volunteer to help maintain order in the long lines outside the rabbanit’s home.
“The fund has a NIS 50,000 debt,” says Arieh. “I give, my children give, the whole family gives, and there are also donations from private supporters.
I remember, seven years into the project, we were struggling to cover the costs. I asked my mother how we were going to afford the money. ‘God will help,’ she said. And He did. And He helps every year. Forty-five years on, and He is still helping.”
The rabbanit also organizes food packages for the poor every Friday.
How did all this benevolence begin? “My mother was walking in the street and heard a woman screaming that she had nothing to eat,” Arieh recounts.
“She went to her home and brought her food and saw the state she was living in and cleaned her house. That led to one and then another, and then people heard they could come to us for help, and it grew from there,” he says..
“I remember, one Friday a woman came to us and said her family had nothing to eat. My mother began to cry and gave her the food she had prepared for us; she said that we’d be okay. On another occasion, a woman came needing clothes for her children, so she took clothes straight out of our cupboards and gave them to her. Until last year, we ran a summer day camp for children.
Families would pay something very minimal; the program was equal to the best in the country,” he says.
Aside from their dedication to the needs of others for the holiday, it is interesting to find out how the Kapachs themselves celebrate Passover.
“Our [matzot] are hand-baked, but they are soft,” says Arieh. “Also, our entire table is like a Seder plate. We place a ring of karpas around the table and place the haroset and maror on top of it...
Also, it is not our custom for the children to steal the afikoman. My father said it is forbidden to steal and that it sends out the wrong message.”
Arieh says, “Passover is all about seder, literally meaning “order.” These days, if young children sit down and there is food on the table, they grab it so fast like they’ve never seen food before. At Passover, we have to sit at the table and wait for the food. That’s an important message for the children of this generation.”
The subject of immediate gratification leads him to another story.
“I remember, we’ve had all kinds of people here in need of help. One day a drug addict came to the door; he was in a terrible state. My mother stood there and screamed at him to stop taking drugs, to go get a haircut and get his life in order.... I met him years later and he was a taxi driver. He told me that my mother had helped him turn his life around,” he says. “The Seder is about order in life and education and teaching that sometimes we have to wait for things. That’s important today.”
At that moment, the rabbanit emerges from her bedroom, shuffling into the lounge area with the aid of a walker. Her presence fills the room.
“How many did you register today?” she asks her son.
“More than 50, but there will be more today and more will register tomorrow,” he replies.
“How many will we give out this year?” she asks.
“This year, I think 1,700.”
“Good,” she says, and slowly moves across the tiled floor toward a low sofa.
“She’s going to pray. When she has strength, she comes here to sit and say Psalms,” her son explains.
The doorbell rings again, and Arieh goes to register another customer.
The rabbanit turns to me with warm but tired eyes.
I ask if she has a message to share for the upcoming festival.
“I hope that there will be enough to go around and that God will help,” she says as her son returns to her side.
As I sit and continue to speak to Arieh for almost another hour, I realize that he has been standing the whole time.
This family doesn’t believe in sitting – there is too much work to be done.