Though Israel is known as the “Start-Up Nation,” the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the Jewish state has one of the highest poverty rates of any developed country with the gap between the rich and the poor ever widening.
Moreso, the report contends that single-parent families or families with only one working parent have a disproportionate rate of poverty.
Three-year-old Mordechai may not have the words to express his confirmation of this statistic, but the sounds coming from his rumbling belly speak volumes.
Last year, Mordechai’s father, Alon, lost his well-paying job in the high-tech industry. As unemployment benefits wind down and the family’s savings run dry, Alon still has not managed to secure a new position. Their situation is quickly becoming dire.
“My wife earns minimum wage as a preschool teacher,” Alon told Breaking Israel News. “We are barely scraping by on her salary and are already in need of assistance from charity organizations just to keep food on our table.”
Unemployment in Israel actually decreased this January, from 4 percent in December 2017 to 3.70 percent. However, those statistics are not comforting to the 1.7 million working poor and unemployed individuals living in poverty.
For example, Teva Pharmaceuticals recently laid off 2,000 employees.
“Meir Panim restaurant-style soup kitchens feed anyone who walks in our doors, no questions asked,” said Goldie Sternbuch, director of overseas relations for Meir Panim charity organization. “Anyone can unexpectedly find themselves on the receiving end of charity.”
With so many children and elderly living in poverty, the gap between the thriving and hungry continues to rise.
In 2017, the Taub Center reported that despite lower unemployment rates in Israel, large parts of the labor market earn very low wages, and the cost of living in Israel is among the highest in the OECD.
The study, “A State of the Nation 2017,” based primarily on Taub Center research reporting the socioeconomic condition of Israel in 2017, makes it clear that anyone can find themselves struggling for their next meal and to feed their family. It notes that, despite lower unemployment, large parts of the labor market earn very low wages while the cost of living remains among the highest in the OECD.
In addition, there is severe inequality of education among students from varying economic backgrounds.
While many of Mordechai’s classmates pay for a balanced hot school lunch of chicken, couscous and vegetables, he is forced to sit with a handful of other underprivileged school mates and served white bread with chocolate spread and water. Israeli chocolate spread is a sugary, icing-like staple in the country.
The negative effects of this lunch are palpable. Firstly, his poor social status becomes clear to his classmates, something he finds embarrassing. In addition, the high sugar content kicks in just when he needs to concentrate on his classroom lessons.
“Poverty can quickly become a vicious cycle if not nipped in the bud when children are affected,” said Sternbuch. “Malnourished children cannot learn in school and often become sick, limiting their future educational success and creating a system where they are doomed to continue working in menial jobs, if at all.”
In order to help Mordechai and other hungry Israeli children receive a hot meal and improve the future of the Holy Land, Meir Panim is running a “feed an Israeli child” campaign. This emergency crowdfunding effort closes March 31.
“If people would partner with Meir Panim and donate just $1 a day, it would make an enormous difference in children’s lives and Israel’s future,” Sternbuch explained.
To donate $1 a day to help feed a hungry Israeli child, please click here.
This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim.