Southeastern hospitality

Now that the crowds have returned home, Jerusalem can take a deep breath and relax, too. Sure, we felt a bit of glee that, for once, Jerusalem was the place to be, the safe spot, the preffered vacation spot for rich and poor. But the glee dissolved quickly, and over the four weeks of fighting, Jerusalemites opened their homes, stores, summer camps, synagogues, theaters, shopping malls, museums, amusement parks and tourists sites - together with their hearts and wallets - to northerners fleeing the Katyushas. From the well-organized campaigns initiated by the municipality, to generous soup kitchens, to spontaneous activities organized by social change groups, to impromptu acts of generosity and kindness: Jersualmites, who know what it means to be battered by violence, tried to do their part. As life in the North slowly returns to normal, In Jerusalem would like to provide our readers with a brief review of this period of time. We couldn't even begin to include all the good deeds, but here at least is a list of some of them: MEIR PANIM Moshe Levkovitch, Meir Panim's energetic, effervescent director, has spent almost every day of the past month in the North. "We have a network of kitchens and warehouses in different cities, and we began to use them from the first day of the war," Levkovitch says, adding, "From the second day of the war, and well before the Social Affairs Ministry recognized the severity of the situation, we were dispatching some 7,800 meals a day to Haifa, Rosh Pina, Safed, Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Metulla and other cities." Meir Panim was created over 10 years ago by Dudi Zilbershlag. As the organization grew, Zilbershlag came to oversee a comprehensive system of warehouses and distribution centers, employing some 50 people and nearly 3,000 volunteers. Says Levkovitch, "Some of our volunteers who went up north never even had a chance to go into the shelters, despite the bombings. They spent their time running from one shelter to another to bring food, mattresses, water and other necessities to those who needed them." Zilbershlag sums up the numbers: over the 34 days, Meir Panim dispatched 13,000 food packages, 4,000 packages of infant formula and other baby foods; 4,000 mattresses; 2,800 kits of emergency lighting; thousands of crates of water bottles; and 1,200 Shabbat meals for the soldiers on their way to and from Lebanon. Usually, Meir Panim provides some 700 hot meals a day to Jerusalem's needy. During the war, LEvkovitch says, they provided "an additional additional 450 hot meals a day that we distributed to the refugees here in Jerusalem and another 500 meals a day to the refugees who came to our soup kitchen in Romema and an additional 1,300 packages of other necessities that we distributed." "Our volunteers worked and continue to work from 5 a.m to 5 p.m. every day - they gather, pack, dispatch, cook and serve food and meals and distribute all kind of toys and furniture." The fighting may be over, Levkovitch says, but the situation is still critical. "There are people who didn't have much before, and now they have been left with nothing." THE ISRAEL MUSEUM Visits to the museum jumped by 250 percent during the weeks of fighting. Last week alone, some 17,000 people visited the museum, an island of reflection and serenity in Jerusalem and a refuge from the bombarded North. Since the war broke out, the museum granted a 50% reduction in the entrance fee to adults from the North and children under the age of 17 were admitted free. And children came in droves. The Youth Wing responded by offering special workshops and programming for children every day, including Bakery Yard workshops, Recycling Room workshops, handicrafts and guided tours for children of the museum. On Tuesday, the museum sponsored a kite-building workshop, and children from the North, perhaps more than anyone else, could appreciate the kite's freedom of flight, and the feeling of freedom that they could experience, too. THE Municipality Mayor Uri Lupolianski mobilized his municipality from the very beginning. "The citizens of Jerusalem are well-acquainted with life under emergency circumstances," he declared, "and they understand more than anyone else how it feels and what is needed." The mayor set a personal example by hands-on leadership and organizing. The efforts progressed on two different tracks. On one track, the municipality welcomed and cared for the thousands of refugees who fled the bombarded cities. According to municipal estimates, some 40,000 people arrived from the North and enjoyed free, or highly discounted, entrance to cultural events and tourists sites. And since Jerusalem has been enjoying one of its most culture-filled summers ever, there were many opportunities for the distraught refugees to take advantage of all that the city has to offer. In addition, the city hosted some 3,000 senior citizens in hotels and other accommodations and provided for their needs. Municipal workers staffed special week-long summer camps for children from the north. Every week, a different neighborhood offered a Friday morning "happening," benefitting both the locals and the guests. Knowing that not everyone could allow themselves to get away for a long period of time, the municipality also chartered buses and organized day trips to the city, so that people could get away, if only for a few hours. The day tours included free transportation, free entrance to at least two tourist sites, a hot meal and even a box lunch of sandwiches for the long ride home. According to the municipality, at least 8,000 people took advantage of this program. The second track provided on-site aid, as In Jerusalem reported ("A tale of three cities," August 4). Now that calm is returning to the North, these special teams from the municipality's various departments will continue to provide professional on-site aid to their counterparts up North. The program, conceived by the mayor, was supported with the help of the New Jerusalem Fund, private donations, and the budgets of the culture, social and youth, arts, and health departments of the municipality. An unexpected, unsolicited benefit for the Jerusalemites: businesses, especially in the Malha mall, report a 30% increase in sales since the war began. THE ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER Over the month, beginning with the first days of the war, IRAC organized three centers for refugees from the North, serving a total of more than 600 people. Volunteers from the Reform movement ran summer camps for children, providing them with hot meals and entertainment, and providing their parents with a brief respite, too. The center packed thousands of food packages, most of them especially suited for single elderly people, left alone in shelters for days at a time. The center has also worked in the public field, drawing the government's and the public's attention to the lack of preparation. HAZON YESHAYA Located in the Bukharan Quarter, Hazon Yeshaya, one of the largest charitable institutions in the city, enrolled in the efforts for the citizens of the North from the very first days. In addition to its active soup kitchen and its ongoing distribution of food and basic necessity packages, Hazon Yeshaya contributed vast amounts of food and supplementary goods to the North. "It was a very large-scale project," said Abraham Israel, head of the institution. "We prepared and sent 4,200 hot meals per day, every day, to the refugees wherever they were - Jerusalem, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, and anywhere else that we knew about. Hazon Yeshaya also "dispatched some 3,700 meals a day to the shelters in Haifa, Tiberias, Safed, the Krayot, Shlomi and Ma'alot. After all, he says, "some people couldn't get out of the shelters even for one day." Despite the Katyushas and the dangers, Hazon Yeshaya's dozens of volunteers continued to bring meals and packages to the shelters. Israel adds that by the second week of the war, Hazon Yeshaya had begun to distribute Shabbat meals to soldiers on the border. "Some of them were religious soldiers, and we didn't want any soldier to spend Shabbat, even during a war, eating battle rations." The war is over, he says, but some people may not recover so quickly. "There are thousands of people who were poor before the war, lacking almost everything. This war added to their suffering, and we will all have to make great efforts to support them. They will not recover by themselves." Like most of the institutions and organizations, Hazon Yeshaya gave freely and has now drained its own resources. Concludes Israel, "And now we hope that good people from Jerusalem, Israel and abroad, will fill our warehouses again, so that we can go on providing for people in need."