Serving the community

Ichlu Reim, J'lem’s only soup kitchen open on Shabbat, holidays, has expanded but still struggles financially to feed a diverse populace.

Ichlu Reim soup kitchen 311 (photo credit: Seth Frantzman)
Ichlu Reim soup kitchen 311
(photo credit: Seth Frantzman)
The 12-year-old appears confident, his feet positioned at right angles with his legs straightened as if taking up a boxer’s stance. “To understand the quote that ‘He is wealthy,’ we have to know who is saying it,” he says. “If a normal person says someone is wealthy, it is not the same as if the wealthiest man says it of another person. For the same reason, when the parsha says someone is wise, we must understand who is saying it.”
The boy is giving an explanation of the weekly reading of the Torah to a group of about 35 people who have gathered at the Ichlu Reim kosher soup kitchen at 212 Jaffa Road. They are mostly families and individuals who come every week to receive a warm Shabbat meal from founder Uriel Mallul, his family and volunteers.
Dalia Hermann is the soup kitchen’s senior volunteer. “I saw an ad five years ago. It was Rosh Hashana, and I came to volunteer as a waitress. I’ve seen the place grow from strength to strength,” she says.
She explains that the charitable organization was created five years ago. Today there are two employees and numerous volunteers who help cook the food. “For instance, this Friday we had a group of Chinese Christians who came and helped us prepare the food. They cut up the vegetables and made the salad.”
Sometimes Ichlu Reim receives people on release from prison service, which has led to interesting experiences. “We get people who, instead of serving a prison sentence, do six months of community service. We get a half dozen of them at a time. Uriel manages very well and watches over them. They feel rewarded by helping others and wouldn’t have this experience otherwise.”
Ichlu Reim recently applied to be a non-profit organization, says Mallul.
“It is a mixed blessing that it is off the street. It means that people can come in discreetly, but it also means it’s hard to find,” notes Hermann.
The space occupies 400 sq.m. of the basement and has an adjoining synagogue.
A large first-class kitchen means they can serve more people.
“We make all the food here. We do a lot of typical dishes, such as potatoes, and Uriel enjoys making his own Moroccan-style fish. Because of the bureaucracy and health laws, most of our food cannot be donated. We make a balanced, low-salt nutritious meal,” Hermann explains.
During the average week, they serve around 100 people a day, and usually more in winter.
Ichlu Reim receives a mix of people who have come to rely on it.
“We get Arabs, religious people – a real mix. We don’t turn anyone away. In the summer when the schools are out, people come with their children. We don’t have too many problems with drunkards coming, but sometimes we have drug addicts who show up. We also have a few homeless people who come,” says Hermann. “We really see the tough side of society here, people who have fallen between the cracks.”
To provide this service, Ichlu Reim has a lot of costs to cover.
“It’s hard to raise money in this financial environment, especially with the recent financial downturn. We look like we are doing well, but we are scraping by. We have been lucky with our few donors, such as the Leaver family in the UK who have shown us such support,” Hermann elaborates.
Ichlu Reim prides itself on being the only soup kitchen in Jerusalem that is open on Shabbat.
“We can seat up to 120, but we usually get 50 or 60 people. We do a dinner at 7 or 8 p.m. and a lunch at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday,” says Hermann.
Actually, it all started in the synagogue,” Mallul says. “I remember I was leaving the shul, and some people stayed there. They said they had nowhere to go, nothing to eat. So I brought them to my house. From those three or four people, I decided I wanted to feed people who were needy. At the beginning we just did it on Friday night. I had extra money to initiate it because I am a building contractor. I also started inviting someone to do a dvar Torah during the meal so the people felt like it was a real Shabbat dinner at home.”