“Meir Panim doesn’t work as an organization. They work as a family.” In November 2018, Cherie Albucher of Modi’in discovered Meir Panim. Albucher is a member of Mothers with Meaning, a national initiative of mothers in Israel building spirituality and community, helping others, and trying to make Israel a better place. In 2019, Mothers with Meaning joined with Masa Israeli, taking the group on a five-day mission of self-discovery throughout Israel. As part of the Masa program, the group toured the Meir Panim Branch in the Negev town of Dimona (population 34,000). The Dimona Branch features a Holocaust Survivor Day Center, which provides physical and emotional support for Holocaust Survivors living in the city. Working in partnership with Dimona’s Municipality, the program serves as a crucial support system for the area’s remaining Holocaust survivors.
In pre-corona times, the group, consisting of over 35 survivors, would meet three days each week between the hours of 8:30 am and 2:30 pm. Seniors enjoyed a hot breakfast followed by activities and time in the community, with a nutritious lunch to end each day’s programming. “We totally fell in love with the place,” says Albucher. “We were exposed to all the work that Meir Panim actually does for all the people in Dimona, whether it be providing hot meals or taking care of them on a daily basis.”
Inspired by the initial visit, Albucher and the Mothers with Meaning group decided to volunteer for Meir Panim, returning to Dimona a few short months later, organizing a special ‘Shuk Purim’ – Purim Fair – in time for Purim 2019. Albucher and her friends brought Purim costumes and second-hand clothes to the entire Dimona community. “We went down to Dimona with carloads of clothes,” Albucher reports. “It was amazing. It was an opportunity to give back. That was our main message – that we are one family, giving back to the community, and we took away from them as well. There is a lot of fulfillment when you can give to someone else and make someone else smile.”
All proceeds from clothing sales at the Shuk Purim went to fund Meir Panim’s programs. “The whole point of Mothers with Meaning is to think of ways to support the community and to support Meir Panim,” says Albucher. She adds that participating in the Purim project gave the women a sense of fulfillment and connection not only with the Holocaust Survivors but with the entire Dimona community. “I haven’t had grandparents for many years,” says Cherie. “Volunteering while having fun with them and giving them company and making them happy is a huge gift for me.”
Albucher and her Mothers with Meaning Group have been unable to return to Dimona, due to the coronavirus pandemic. “During corona, a lot of us were wondering who is making them happy. As a group, we are always trying to figure out what we can do and how to help and support them.” Throughout the corona pandemic, Meir Panim has been helping the elderly who have been confined to their homes and volunteers have been bringing food packages and providing assistance. Albucher adds that her group wants to continue their involvement with Meir Panim in Dimona and help provide new initiatives and ways to support the organization.
For Cherie Albucher, the drive to Dimona is less than two hours. But for Constance and Robert Tolbert of Fosters, Alabama, the distance is considerably greater. “We wanted to make a significant donation to an organization that helped Holocaust Survivors, specifically in Israel,” says Constance. After seeing an ad for Meir Panim on the Internet, the couple learned about the organization’s work and decided to donate. “I felt that their transparency was really good, how much they helped this population, and other populations as well…my heart connected with it, and we wanted to make a donation.” The Tolberts contributed to Meir Panim and have continued to support the organization. They traveled to Israel in April 2019, visiting the Meir Panim Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem, and serving patrons there during the visit. “I wish that I could actually be in Israel, and provide hands-on help, but at least I have a job that I work hard at so that I can send money to Meir Panim,” says Constance. “I’m excited to be a part of them. I’m proud of the work that they do.” The Tolberts receive emails regularly from Meir Panim, updating them on the organization’s activities.
“I am a Jew,” says Constance. “The Holocaust survivors are part of my heritage, and they are part of our people. Meir Panim has a lot of social services, and they reach out to them and provide them with basic needs.”
Through its Holocaust Survivor Day Center and other social programs, Meir Panim ensures that Israel’s elderly can enjoy each day with care and dignity.