Josh Varon moved to Israel from New York in 2021. Shortly after, he started working as an Enterprise Product Consultant at Monday.com, one of the most exciting companies in the Israeli tech scene, offering a platform that allows users to create their own project management software.
After making such a successful landing in the Jewish State, Varon feels he has a lot to be grateful for. For this reason, he was very excited to be offered the opportunity to volunteer at the Jerusalem branch of the non-profit Meir Panim with a group of his coworkers.
“Through work, we have had a great opportunity to come out and volunteer,” he said. “I moved to Israel about two and a half years ago and I am always looking for new opportunities to give back. We found this amazing organization and we figured that we would come and spend some time here giving back and volunteering.”
Meir Panim is one of the largest organizations in Israel dealing with the question of food security. It runs five Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens in Tzfat, Jerusalem, Tiberias, Dimona and Or Akiva. Those who come to eat are served sit-down style, as they would be in a restaurant.
The group of Monday.com employees visited Meir Panim as a part of a team-building retreat.
After a brief introduction to the organization’s values and mission, they headed into the kitchen and got to work chopping vegetables, preparing soup and meats, welcoming and serving the patrons and clearing tables with efficiency and joy.
Asked whether something surprised her, Einat Strizevsky, Senior Account Executive at Monday.com said that it was the feeling of normalcy.
“Those who come here to eat are just very normal people,” said Strizevsky. “I guess I wasn't expecting that. Before coming here, I had a different demographic in mind.”
For Einat, it was hard to see how common food insecurity is in Israel.
“I would have never thought that the wonderful people who come here do not have food to eat tonight,” the volunteer said. “It makes me feel really thankful. And at the same time, even if it's very cliche, it reminded me that we should never judge a book by its cover. We never know where people are from, what they're going through and what resources they have to support their families and themselves.”
According to the “Alternative Poverty Report for the year 2022” by NGO Latet, some 830,000 Israeli households were living in poverty in 2022, or 27.7 percent of Israel’s population - over 2.6 million people, about half of whom are children. Before the pandemic began in 2020, the number of families living in poverty was 699,000.
In addition, a recent report by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy found that over half of Jerusalem’s children live below the poverty line.
According to a 2023 report from the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi), the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors present a higher level of people dealing with food insecurity than the general population.
Meir Panim helps people in need from all backgrounds, Jewish, Muslim or Christian, religious or secular, young and old, no questions asked.
Those volunteering at Meir Panim also come from very diverse circumstances, whether they volunteer as individuals or as part of a group.
Recently, the Jerusalem branch of the organization also received a group of police officers.
“It was a heartwarming experience,” said Lior, one of the officers. “I believe it is essential to help people who need our help.”
“I considered the experience of volunteering at Meir Panim a great privilege, and it reminded me of the importance of putting things in proportion,” she added.
Last summer, the NGO welcomed another special group of volunteers organized through SodaStream, the Israeli-based company that manufactures home carbonation devices, this time in its Dimona branch.
Headquartered in Southern Israel, the company, realizing the strain on parents - their employees - to keep their kids busy and engaged over the summer, organized a camp for the children.
Each week, as a part of this program, children of SodaStream employees from all backgrounds and religions visited Meir Panim’s Dimona branch and volunteered, meeting the patrons, lending a hand, and having a good time together.
The young adults carried out the work with incredible energy - sorting and packaging produce, serving meals, visiting and playing games with the Holocaust Survivors who visit the day center run by Meir Panim, cooking, and sprucing up the facility with a fresh coat of paint.
Meir Panim also welcomes many volunteers visiting Israel from abroad - individuals, families and groups. This summer, among others, their branches enjoyed the visit of multiple groups of teen tours.
“It was a very special day and we enjoyed working with all the wonderful employees,” said Leslie and Neil, two of the teens volunteering. “They are committed, polite, and treated the people with dignity.”
For all the volunteers, the time spent at Meir Panim leaves a big impact.
“It's been a very eye-opening experience,” Strizevsky concluded. “Even if someone cannot physically come to help prepare the food and serve the guests, I encourage everyone to support Meir Panim with a donation. It is a really great cause.”