Dedicated to helping others: Nissim Elmakayes Meir Panim’s Dimona Branch Manager

 Nissim Elmakayes and his family (photo credit: GIL & RON)
Nissim Elmakayes and his family
(photo credit: GIL & RON)

Every day, I pray that this place will close down as soon as possible,” says Nissim Elmakayes, Branch Manager of Meir Panim’s Dimona branch, located in the Negev, Israel’s southern region. It may seem a bit unusual for the manager of an organization to wish for its demise, but after spending a few minutes with Elmakayes, his point becomes abundantly clear – he longs for the day when an organization such as Meir Panim will no longer be needed, when everyone who wants to work will be able to find employment, and when no one will go hungry. Until that day, Nissim  Elmakayes devotes his days and nights providing for all those in need in Dimona.

Nissim was born in Beersheba, and his family moved to Kiryat Gat when he was a child. When his mother became ill and could no longer take care of him, Nissim was raised as a foster child and lived with a number of families during his childhood. He remembers little of his childhood until the age of 14. “As a child, I endured a great deal of deprivation. That’s probably why I ended up working in a place where we are giving of ourselves all the time,” he says. Perhaps it is a function of his personality, maybe it is the circumstances of his upbringing, or perhaps it is a little of both, but Elmakayes is supremely dedicated to helping others and giving back to society.

'We took people sitting at home in pajamas and watching television all day, doing nothing... We gave them the tools to get out to and achieve economic freedom.'

At the age of 15, Nissim went to live on Kibbutz Sa’ad, located in the northern Negev, where he joined an educational program for children coming from broken homes. It was there that his life changed. Nissim was placed with a family in the kibbutz that welcomed him and raised them as if he was one of their own. Forty years later, he still maintains a close connection with the family.

After completing his military service, Nissim married and moved to Yeruham, a town in the southern Negev. While working as a gardener, he began to help the indigent of the town. “Many people came to me looking for used washing machines, ovens, and refrigerators.” Nissim began to collect old appliances and distribute them to those in need, until his yard was overflowing with used goods. Nissim, who was working full time in a cosmetics factory, helped open a branch of Meir Panim’s “Power of Giving” shop (Koach Latet) in Yeruham that collects, adapts, and distributes second-hand furniture and equipment to people in need, volunteering there for several years.

Two years later, he was offered the opportunity to open a branch of Meir Panim in Dimona. Nissim accepted the offer and is now in his twenty-second year heading Meir Panim’s operations there.

What is the “secret sauce” of the dedicated staff of Meir Panim that enables them to help the disadvantaged with such dedication? Says Nissim, “To work at Meir Panim, you must truly be Meir Panim, which means welcoming and kind. Second, you must have a heart, have patience, and care for others.” Lastly, he quips, one shouldn’t count on receiving a high salary. The greater reward for the good deeds that people do at Meir Panim will come in the world to come, he says. 

Nissim Elmakayes says that he is grateful for the successes in his life. “I felt that I had to give back to God, who didn’t let me end up on the street. Someone with my story should have ended up in prison. Fortunately, I did not end up in jail. Everything comes from above.”

When he sees people in dire straits who come to Meir Panim for support, he is especially sensitive to their needs because he once was in their shoes. “When I was a child, I didn’t have what my children and grandchildren have now,” he says. “I want to give back to others and express my thanks.”

Concluding our discussion, we return to the theme of helping others break out of the cycle of poverty. Nissim discusses two recent projects that Meir Panim in Dimona has sponsored that have helped to change the lives of their clients for the better. “We created a cooking workshop headed by professional chefs, and we taught twenty students the techniques needed for cooking. Of the twenty who enrolled, seventeen are working now, instead of hanging out on the streets,” he reports. Had they not taken the course, says Nissim, they would be coming to Meir Panim to get food. “I see the graduates of this course around town, and they say to me, ‘Nissim – it is all because of Meir Panim.”

A second initiative called “Don’t go alone,” taught practical job skills to women who were sitting at home unemployed. “We gave them the tools to get economic freedom,” he says. Students were given laptops and studied English, driving theory, and computers, and learned how to create their own resumes.  

“My work gives me the greatest satisfaction in the world,” says Nissim with a smile. “It gives me  the strength to help people, and when I  see how happy people become when I help them, it motivates me even more.” 

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This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim