A hand and a heart

It's Friday afternoon, and while most households are preparing for Shabbat, Milka Ben-Ziman is at Hadassah-University Medical Center at Ein Kerem visiting cancer patients. Every Friday, bearing cakes for Shabbat, she distributes the baked goods to each one in the ward, along with a blessing and some genial conversation. This she does in addition to her daily work of overseeing the distribution of food packages for more than 2,000 needy families a week in Jerusalem. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. As coordinator of Yad Eliezer, one of the largest anti-hunger organizations in the country, Ben-Ziman looks destitution in the eye every waking moment as she fields imploring office visits and phone calls from desperate mothers, demoralized fathers and starving children. And there are long stretches of those waking moments, for Ben-Ziman says she often cannot sleep at night, haunted by the faces and the pleas of the families that need her help. "I am involved in it and I still can't believe it myself," she says. "Most people cannot comprehend the depth of such poverty that some families do not even have bread," says Ben-Ziman, the mother of eight. But with 3,000 volunteers in Jerusalem alone, help is being rendered in a variety of ways. Yad Eliezer began in 1980 in the kitchen of the Weisel family of Jerusalem, who prepared a food basket for a neighbor who could not feed her children. Soon they were delivering monthly food baskets to a number of hungry families. Headquartered in Jerusalem at Rehov Polansky 12, Yad Eliezer now has centers across the country, with an extensive range of programs and services to fulfill the ever-growing requirements of its clientele. "Every morning I come into the office, and by 7 or 8 at night, so many different kinds of requests have been made," says Ben-Ziman. "Life makes the agenda for you." For example, in the sphere of social services, Yad Eliezer has distribution centers for furniture and appliances, an orphan fund, a big brother program and an empowering job-training program. To help celebrate the joyous moments of life, Yad Eliezer has a bar-mitzva twinning project and a holiday fund. And the organization owns two wedding halls, where couples can have the wedding of their dreams, in conjunction with a sponsoring couple abroad in the Adopt-a-Wedding program. In addition, the Kol Kallah fund helps newlyweds start off on the right foot by providing them with gift certificates to purchase their household needs. When it comes to brides, Malkie Fish is on hand to provide yet another service. Several times a month, she volunteers to drive the Yad Eliezer brides to their weddings. "It makes my day," she says. "A bride comes into my car with her gorgeous gown, accompanied by her mother or a sister or friend - it is so beautiful to be a part of that." No stranger to using her car as a vehicle of chesed, Fish has been delivering Yad Eliezer Shabbat food packages for the past six years. Every Thursday afternoon she goes to a distribution center in Ezrat Torah, where she picks up her allotment of boxes filled with challa, fish, salads, chicken and cake. As she climbs the (often) several flights of stairs to deliver the food to her regulars, who range from the lone elderly to young families with many small children, Fish says she always asks herself, "What more can I do? How else can I help?" For more information about Yad Eliezer, visit www.yadeliezer.org