As Chanukah approaches, staff and volunteers at Meir Panim, one of Israel's largest assistance networks for the needy, are working hard to ensure a joyous festival for everyone.
Meir Panim runs five “Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens:” The organization operates in Tzfat, Jerusalem, Tiberias, Dimona and Or Akiva. Those who come to eat are served sit-down style, as they would be in a restaurant. Over Chanukah, they will be able to enjoy the special atmosphere of the holiday, with menorahs, decorations, and, of course, sufganiyot (traditional jelly donuts).
The organization distributes over 1,000,000 meals every year with the help of some 3,000 volunteers.
“During Chanukah, we see many families come and volunteer, which is very nice,” says Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development at Meir Panim.
Meir Panim also runs additional programs at their branches, such as a weekly “free-shuk” initiative, which offers patrons the opportunity to choose from fresh fruit and vegetables for free to bring home and cook to their own liking.
“Every week, they give me enough food for a few days so that I have what I need to live,” says Maurice, a 75-year-old disabled veteran who served in two wars and lives near Or Akiva.
“Life is very difficult, there is nothing I can do, only pray that it will be good,” he adds.
According to Ilanit, the manager of Meir Panin in Or Akiva, providing for people’s physical needs is only a part of what the organization does.
“We give clothing, produce, radiators, and shoes, but these are all physical things,” she says. “I give them love and remove the shame and this is something important.”
Meir Panim is also devoted to giving back to the community that supports their work. For this reason, in Or Akiva, the organization is delivering sufganiyot to old age homes, daycares, and police officers around the city to celebrate Chanukah.
In addition to helping Israel’s needy around the holidays, the nonprofit runs programs for specific vulnerable populations in Israel all year round. Aside from helping the younger generation such as at-risk teens and lone soldiers, Meir Panim supports Holocaust survivors as well.
Meir Panim's Holocaust Survivor Day Center in the Southern Israeli city of Dimona is more than just a place for these senior citizens to go to during the day. It is a community where staff and volunteers think about every element of the Survivors’ lives, in and outside of the program.
In 2018, Meir Panim staff and volunteers realized that their patrons had some needs that were not being met. As many people when they grow older, the survivors needed more help maintaining their appearances.
“We wanted to take care of them and help them feel great outside as well as inside,” says Rozmaryn. “In 2019, we recruited professionals to come in and help care for them and we began offering beauty treatments, including haircuts and pedicures.”
Since then, every three months, local hairdressers volunteer their time to give the 40 Holocaust survivors who attend activities at the center a professional haircut and styling.
“We have understood that because of their mobility impairments or difficulty with scheduling, it is really amazing for them when we are able to bring professionals to our center,” says Rozmaryn. “It is another way for our center to be a second home for the Holocaust survivors and a resource for all the things they need to make their lives smoother and easier.”
The number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling rapidly. Around 165,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel today – in 2021 according to the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority, a government department, 15,000 died.
According to the Center of Organizations of Holocaust survivors in Israel, one-third of the survivors in the country live in poverty.
At the Dimona facility, Meir Panim serves breakfast and lunch every day. In addition, the patrons are given a prepared dinner to take home. The nonprofit also runs activities and events to meet the survivors’ emotional needs, as well as their physical ones.
After the haircut everyone feels great and excited, Rozmaryn says.
“Part of the work we do with these Holocaust survivors is getting to know them in order to understand their needs and helping improve their lives,” Rozmaryn adds.
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This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim