A Succot harvest with a charitable twist

Thousands of English-speaking immigrants and tourists turn up for Leket Israel’s event to pick produce for the needy.

311_Leket Israel fields (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Leket Israel fields
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Margit and Kevie Feit from Teaneck, New Jersey, are no strangers to Israel. Visitors to the Jewish state at least once a year, the family decided that this Succot, they wanted an experience slightly different than the usual vacation treats.
“We wanted to teach our son that you can do good, kind things even on your vacation,” Margit Feit told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, as she stood in the middle of a sun-baked tomato field collecting leftover fruit for the needy.
The Feits, together with seven-year-old son JJ, were among more than 1,000 English speakers, both tourists and immigrants, who gathered at the agricultural village of Kvutzat Shiller, near Rehovot, to pick tomatoes, in a modern-day twist on ancient Jewish gleaning customs.
Organized by Leket Israel, the national food bank formerly known as Table-to- Table, the event is held every year on Succot to help gather fruit and vegetables grown on some 700 dunams of farmland owned by veteran immigrant Sandy Colb.
Monday’s event yielded 10,000 kilograms of tomatoes. The hundreds of crates of produce will be transported by Leket to numerous soup kitchens and food charities across the country that feed the country’s needy.
“We heard about this event from my brother who lives here, and we thought that it would give us a new experience in Israel,” continued Margit Feit, who is here for two weeks.
Also putting his family to work was Daniel Wolf, a New Jersey resident here for the holidays.
“Every time we come to Israel we try to do an activity associated with a charity because it gives the kids an opportunity to help out,” said Wolf, who had shown up to volunteer with his wife and three children, ages 10, eight and three.
“There is this whole new element of “hessed [charity] tourism” commented Joseph Gitler, founder and executive director of Leket Israel, which also gathers leftover food from restaurants, malls, businesses and banquet halls to be distributed to charities that serve families and individuals living below the poverty line.
“Even yesterday we hosted here four bar/bat mitzva groups from abroad that wanted a hessed experience,” he pointed out.
However, Gitler said that the event, which is now in its fourth year and drew a smaller crowd than expected because of the intense heat, was designed to give both visitors to Israel and English-speaking residents a chance “to really help those in need.”
“We try to teach people about the issues in this country – not necessarily the extreme horrors of poverty, but to make sure people are aware that it exists and know how they can help,” he added.
One British-born woman, who gave her name only as Jo, was participating in the event with her husband and four sons, saying it was a chance to “have a nice day out with the family and at the same time to do a mitzva.”
“It is very important to me that my children realize that not everyone in this country is as fortunate as them,” said the Alon Shvut resident.
Indeed, the latest data released by the National Insurance Institute last November shows that 420,100 families, or 1,651,300 individuals, live below the poverty line, with some 783,600 children considered poor – a steady increase over the previous years.
The poverty line in Israel is defined as those earning a monthly income of less than NIS 1,763 (approximately $410) for a single person and NIS 2,777, or $650, for a couple.
Over the recent holiday period, many food charities and soup kitchens reported an increase in the number of people requesting assistance.