'I am scared that my soldier son will ask for second helpings'

Rosh Hashana for mothers in the shadow of poverty.

poor in garbage 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
poor in garbage 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sara Avinery is looking forward to seeing her soldier son when he arrives home next week for the High Holy Days, but she cannot hide the panic in her voice on Tuesday as she describes her fear at not being able to afford to feed him during his short leave from the army. "I live in constant fear," says the 48-year-old mother of two, who divorced six years ago and has been struggling financially ever since. "I fear everything - not being able to pay my bills, going to jail, not being able to afford my medicines - but most of all, I am scared that my son will ask for second helpings at the dinner table on Rosh Hashana and I just won't be able to give him what he wants." Worries about not having enough food for the festive meal are common enough among Jewish mothers, but for Avinery (not her real name), a resident of the North who lives on an income of NIS 1,209 a month, that concern is much more than genetic paranoia. Through her tears, Avinery says that she has "nothing." "It's not even like I have to decide between which brand of jeans I should buy my son, its more a case of whether I will be able to buy him new pants at all or whether he will have to continue wearing ones that are already too small," she says. "I really have nothing and won't even allow myself to look in shops." According to Avinery, who gave up working 20 years ago to raise her two sons, she has been actively searching for work since she split up with the children's father in 2001. "I can't even afford to buy a newspaper to look for jobs, so I just search through the free papers. But so far, I have not had one response to my applications," she says grimly, adding that it is perhaps her age that makes her unattractive to potential employers. With the vast majority of her tiny income going toward rent, Avinery says she has little left over for food or essential medicines to treat her diabetes. "I have to go to a soup kitchen every day for lunch, and I bring home food for the boys because I won't subject them to that indignity," she says. "While I truly appreciate what these people are doing for me, it is not easy for a grown person to have to rely on someone else to take care of them." While Avinery does not suffer extreme hunger on a daily basis, she is philosophical, pointing out that hunger is not always a matter of food. "The hunger is not just about food. We are also hungry for culture, for new clothes, for a smile from someone else and acceptance by society," she says, adding that she doesn't invite friends over for coffee, because then she has to worry that the milk used for the drink will mean there is not enough for her children. "It is very isolating. I can't afford to go out, can't afford to invite people over, but we need to go on living and to feed our souls somehow." Asked how she keeps on going in the miserable trap of this poverty cycle, Avinery confesses that she lies to herself in order to stay positive. "I just tell myself that tomorrow will be better than today, and even though I know it's probably not true, I just keep on believing the lie," she says, adding that when she is not looking for a job, she finds solace in volunteering at a variety of places in her community. "My son - the one in the army - asked why I bothered to contribute to the country. After all, the country has let me fall into this terrible situation. But I told him that my volunteering was about giving back to society," says Avinery. "My only message is that its not about the country, its about the people."•