Israel ranks as the 3rd country in the world in having the largest gap between the rich and the poor. For such a small country, that’s a jarring figure.
And when it comes to our nations’ children, the numbers are even more shocking. 1 in 3 children are living beneath the poverty line, with around 850,000 of Israel’s youth failing to receive the proper amount of food each day. Add on the distress of a global pandemic, and this reality is only deteriorating.
The Myth of Rich Israelis
It’s time to look at the hard facts: poverty in Israel is real. It’s taking a heavy toll on our country. Yet, we are also a country of giving, of compassion, of action. Our nation sits embedded in the values of helping those in need, especially family.
And in Israel, we are all family.
Yad Ezra V’Shulamit began with these exact core values in mind. Started in 1988 by Aryeh Lurie, a man who was raised in poverty himself, the humanitarian organization focuses on fighting Israel’s poverty epidemic one family at a time. Despite experiencing his own struggle for his family’s basic needs as a child, Lurie recalls his mother having him hand-deliver Shabbat cholent each week to neighbors even needier.
Yad Ezra V’Shulamit operates with this memory in mind, named in honor of Lurie’s parents Ezra and Shulamit. The organization began primarily focusing on Israel’s rampant hunger, being the first thing needed in order to break the cycle of poverty.
Starting out with 50 weekly food baskets to local families in need, today the organization delivers over 10,000 food baskets weekly throughout the whole country. With their ever-increasing abilities to help more and more families in Israel, Yad Ezra V’Shulamit decided to expand their services. Hunger was just the first step, and yet, for so many of the impoverished, much more was needed to continue their fight against poverty.
Food for Thought
Yad Ezra V’Shulamit’s vision is not only one for today, but one for our future — a future in which Jewish children are healthy and happy, and able to grow strong into the next leaders of our people.
The organization opened up a children’s center in Jerusalem, providing not only nutritious daily meals, but also academic tutoring, music and art therapy and a warm, exciting social environment among peers. Children are given the foundation to succeed and thrive and the hope for a better future. Additionally, at-risk-teens have the opportunity to participate in youth groups.
Services by Yad Ezra V’Shulamit are received by all in need — orphans, single parents, poor families, those struggling with illness, new immigrants and the elderly. Families receive new school supplies for their children, warm clothing for the winter, and emergency relief services. New mothers struggling to care for their babies are supplied with formula and diapers.
Bringing Back the Simcha
Weddings for the poor can be traumatic to the point of devastation. With no money for the basic ceremony, what would normally be a joyful time turns into stress, anxiety and depression for the bride, the groom … and their entire families.
Yad Ezra V’Shulamit is now tackling this problem, too. With the purchase of the famous double wedding halls in Jerusalem formerly known as “Wolf," Yad Ezra V’Shulamit has renovated the popular location into 2 stunning halls with the capacity to jointly hold 380 weddings annually.
More than merely beautifying the halls, Yad Ezra V'Shulamit developed a program that provides weddings to low-income orphans for an at-cost price and is also determined to find sponsors to cover catering costs. The low price-tag now means the couple can start their new life together with abundant joy instead of exorbitant debt.
The basic needs of survival should never be out of reach for any human being, and in Israel, with charity (tzedakah) being a core tenet of our tradition, the Jewish nation is fighting to make this a reality.
A new generation of the “new poor”
However, a year and a half into the COVID pandemic, Israel needs more help than ever to keep this tradition alive. With unemployment rates rising fast, poverty has increased dramatically. A new generation of the “new poor” has emerged, with families experiencing devastating financial losses for the first time ever. And in the scramble to expand its reaches, Yad Ezra V’Shulamit has committed to help as many as possible, making a difference in the lives of so many.
Nachum, a 35-year-old father of 5 in Jerusalem shares:
“Before Corona, I had a rich life. I worked as a chef in a hotel and brought home a very good salary. I had more than enough to support my family and I was the one who always gave tzedakah to the poor. From the first lockdown, the hotels were shut down and I have been out of work ever since. Unemployment barely covers the mortgage, electricity, medical insurance and the kids’ schools, which are all paid automatically. There is not enough money left for food. What am I supposed to do?”
Today, Nachum and his family receive a weekly food basket from Yad Ezra V’Shulamit. With food on the table, they can begin to re-build their lives again.
Support Yad Ezra V’Shulamit in one of their many projects to help fight Israel’s poverty today.
Help them to build a better tomorrow.
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