As the season in Israel changes from winter to spring, Jews across the holy land are preparing to celebrate Passover, also known as the Festival of Liberation. Passover commemorates the Jewish liberation by God from slavery in Egypt.
“Passover is a time where families come together around the table and tell the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt to the Land of Milk and Honey,” explained Danielle Rubin, Project Director at American Friends of Meir Panim. “But for families without enough food to eat, Passover is a reminder of their continued slavery.”
Slavery to Hunger
Gil and his family live in Rehovot. They have been struggling for the last several years, since Gil had a work accident that rendered him disabled. Last month, Gil visited one of Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchens for lunch, where he told staff he was considering risking having the electricity turned off rather than forgo a Passover seder.
“We acted swiftly to enroll Gil and his family in our prepaid food shopping card program so that he would not have to choose,” said Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim.
Meir Panim’s prepaid food shopping cards, which resemble credit cards, provide needy families across Israel with the means to observe Passover fully. With the cards in hand, recipients can shop at major food chains and purchase the foods and home goods that they need in order to support themselves and their families, without feeling the embarrassment of collecting handouts.
Netanya has a similar story to Gil’s. Her husband Shlomo lost his job last winter and has yet to find a proper replacement. She doesn’t want her three children to know that they cannot afford to put food on the table, so she frequents a local Meir Panim Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen and fills plastic containers with food. Netanya then brings those containers home and empties them into her own pots, where she re-cooks the food for her children as if it were her own.
“I am too embarrassed to tell the kids we cannot afford to live anymore,” said Netanya. “I just thank God that we are blessed with Meir Panim, which provides us with a warm meal daily and extra food shopping cards for the holidays.”
This Passover, Netanya and her family will have a seder with food purchased with these prepaid cards.
Israel has an alarmingly high rate of poverty, according to a 2016 report by the OECD. Some two out of every five Israeli children are hungry. This translates to around 1.7 million poor Israelis (21.7 percent of the population), according to the National Insurance Institute, including 460,800 families and 764,200 children who live below the poverty line.
Hunger has a negative impact on all aspects of a child’s life: physical, cognitive and social. There is a direct link between stunted growth and hunger, and between disease and hunger.
“Kids suffering from hunger often have poorer overall physical health,” said Sternbuch.
Further, children experiencing chronic hunger are more likely to develop learning disabilities or other cognitive impairments, Sternbuch explained. They can also become isolated or anti-social due to feelings of embarrassment or shame about their predicament.
“At Meir Panim, I see the effect food insecurity has on kids. If in 2018, we have 760,000 children suffering from the far-reaching effects of poverty, what could this mean for the future of our country?” Sternbuch asked.
Meir Panim is running a special Passover campaign to fill the children of Israel with hope this holiday season and the entire year. For $1 a day, you can help feed a needy child for a year.
This article was written in cooperation with Meir Panim. Names changed to respect the needy.