Jerusalem – Coming together during coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the unparalleled solidarity of Jerusalem residents.

S.A.H.I. VOLUNTEERS pack food baskets in Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
S.A.H.I. VOLUNTEERS pack food baskets in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The corona crisis has caused an unprecedented coming together for the city’s residents,” says Shai Doron, president of the Jerusalem Foundation. “People have demonstrated mutual responsibility, camaraderie and genuine engagement in the lives of the communities around them, even when they may never have acknowledged each other before. The civil society organizations so active in Jerusalem, more than any other city in Israel, changed their priorities, their programs, their activities, with only one aim: to make sure that no Jerusalemite was left alone in this struggle.”
During the corona pandemic, the Jerusalem Foundation, which since its inception in 1966, has raised funds for major social, cultural and beautification projects in the city, has rapidly pivoted to support the city’s most vulnerable populations.
Over the past six weeks, it has raised $1.3 million in donations from around the world and has distributed food, educational packages, tablets and computers, and provided much-needed assistance to families at risk and with special needs. Working closely with all city agencies, and in full coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality and Mayor Moshe Lion, the Foundation and its volunteer community network have ensured food security and a social support safety net for the people most in need.
The special bond that has been created among Jerusalem residents can best be illustrated by the efforts of three Jerusalemites, who have been working with the Jerusalem Foundation to help residents of the city in creative ways, amidst the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus.
MAYOR MOSHE LION and Jerusalem Foundation president Shai Doron (right) distribute blankets and towels to World War II veterans (Photo Credit: Jackie Ohayon) MAYOR MOSHE LION and Jerusalem Foundation president Shai Doron (right) distribute blankets and towels to World War II veterans (Photo Credit: Jackie Ohayon)
WITH THE onset of the crisis, the Jerusalem Foundation was called upon to supply food parcels to individuals who had been laid off from their jobs and had been struggling to make ends meet. Tadela Ysia, head of welfare and community affairs for the foundation, decided that rather than prepare generic food baskets for the needy, she would create and choose specific items tailored to the individual needs of the city’s varied population. She investigated the different types of food required and directed the preparation of four different types of food packages – distinctive parcels for the elderly; for Arabs who fast during Ramadan; for members of the Ethiopian community; and for Christian Arabs.
Tadela researched the specific needs of each community in order to develop different food baskets for each group. The food parcels prepared for the Ethiopian community were packaged with teff flour, a uniquely flavored whole grain flour that Ethiopians use to prepare injera, a spongy type of flatbread; beans, which are eaten with the injera, and special coffee beans that are used to prepare Ethiopian coffee. Food baskets prepared for Arabs observing Ramadan included Freekeh, a cereal grain made from green durum wheat that is similar to bulgur; Medjool dates, halvah, thin noodles, tehina and other basic foods. The food baskets prepared for the elderly contained low-sugar, and healthy food items tailored to their diets.
“Through the food baskets,” says Ysia, “I learned more about each group.” She adds that when recipients received the specially matched food baskets, they understood that the parcels represented an effort on the part of the Foundation to take their special needs and interests into account.
All of the products used for the food packages were purchased from small businesses in Mahaneh Yehuda that have been hard-hit by the economic crisis. In this way, the food baskets benefited two groups – the needy as well as local Jerusalem businesses.
The packaging and delivery of the food parcels was coordinated by S.A.H.I., the ‘Special Hessed Unit,’ an organization that uses food distribution as a tool for developing and helping disadvantaged youth from poor neighborhoods in Israel. Avraham Hayon, founder and CEO of S.A.H.I., explains, “We take youth from poor and disadvantaged areas, and instead of saying to them, ‘We want to help you’, we tell them that we need their help to assist those who are most in need in the neighborhood. S.A.H.I. strengthens youth by having them locate families in need in their neighborhoods and distribute food packages anonymously. Members of S.A.H.I. also perform home repairs for Holocaust survivors, and visit old age homes.
“Their lives change – they realize that they themselves are good people, and this changes their outlook on themselves and on life in general,” explains Hayon.
S.A.H.I. distributes food in 36 different locations throughout the country, with the largest distribution in Jerusalem. When the corona crisis began, the Jerusalem Foundation contacted them, and enlisted their aid in distributing the specialized food parcels created by Tadela Ysia and her team throughout the city. Hayon reports that the recipients were delighted to receive the food baskets and appreciated the special consideration that went into providing specific foods. Including the distribution of Passover food packages to Haredim, S.A.H.I. distributed 25,000 food baskets throughout the country, including 10,000 in Jerusalem alone.
Volunteers pack food baskets in Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Courtesy)Volunteers pack food baskets in Jerusalem (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
WHILE TADELA YSIA and Avraham Hayon assisted their fellow residents in providing food essentials, Ornit Ben Yashar provided needed medical supplies for medical personnel. Ben Yashar is the CEO of Machshava Tova, a nonprofit organization that since 2003 has provided underprivileged populations with access to technology in a supportive and empowering environment. The organization’s target populations include people with special needs, children and youth at risk.
Machshava Tova provides enhanced technological access and training to underserved populations in computer centers nationwide, and its Mobile Center Units reach populations who cannot attend their computer centers. With the nationwide lockdown caused by corona, all the organization’s activities were shuttered. Ben Yashar was undeterred, and in coordination with the Jerusalem Foundation, took the organization’s 3D printer from the lab, brought it to the homes of Machshava Tova staff, and printed 1,300 masks for medical teams in four hospitals in the eastern sector of Jerusalem. In addition, Machshava Tova is now offering special Zoom classes during this period to senior citizens in both Hebrew and English that teach them how to utilize technology. A wide variety of classes are available online, that teach seniors how to use smartphones, social media, email, and cloud storage. During this period, when seniors are urged to remain in their homes, learning these skills is vital and necessary for remaining in touch with members of the community, family and friends.
The Jerusalem Foundation will continue to support both the short-term and long-term needs of the city to strengthen its diverse communities, preserve its unique culture and ensure the future leadership. While the pandemic has challenged the residents of the city, it has also illustrated the unique solidarity and unity that its residents are capable of.
Preparing and delivering food parcels to the needy, creating and providing medical masks, and teaching senior citizens to use technology and stay in touch, are all links in a larger chain, that when connected, enables Jerusalem’s citizens to survive, and even thrive during a challenging time.
“I have no doubt that the residents of Jerusalem, who have demonstrated remarkable resilience and solidarity throughout this crisis,” says Shai Doron, “will not soon forget the days when we were all here for a truly united moment.”