Along with the miraculous “ingathering of the exiles” to the Holy Land came an influx of cuisine with varied flavors, textures and styles. Although approximately 75 percent of Israelis ethnically identify themselves as Jewish, they stem from places all over the world.
“Prior to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish people were dispersed all over the world,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Lipsker, administrator for Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running charity, to Breaking Israel News. “When the exiled nation returned to their homeland, they brought with them customs and cuisines acquired along their journey.”
Israel now consists of: Ashkenazi Jews, who generally descend from Germany, northern France, America, England and South Africa; Russian Jews, who are ethnically from Eastern Europe; Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews, who are generally from Spain, Portugal, France, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia; Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews and more.
Though Israel is often viewed as an advanced “start up nation,” there are 1.8 million citizens living under the poverty line, due, in part, to its constant influx of immigrants. Colel Chabad has been feeding and taking care of the Holy Land’s impoverished residents for over 230 years!
As part of Colel Chabad’s Food Security Initiative with Israel’s Ministry of Welfare, the charity organization is doing more than giving food. It is providing struggling families and individuals with a level of dignity, respecting their history and culture by giving ethnically desired food staples.
Recognizing that poverty is difficult in and of itself, the organization, which is always striving to raise the bar on helping those in need, now provides food for the hungry with their unique cultural food preferences in mind.
“For those with exotic taste, Israel is a haven for delicious food from all over the world,” continued Rabbi Lipsker. “Some cultures eat more potatoes and pasta while others eat more beans and rice. Colel Chabad is now giving food baskets to match the clientele we are feeding.”
Colel Chabad’s food packing centers are located in 48 municipalities around Israel. The centers are staffed by volunteers in order to save on overhead costs as well as to offer a charitable outlet to those seeking to help those in need.
Packages of dry goods, fresh vegetables, fruits, and housewares, are included in the tens of thousands of boxes delivered to homes all across Israel each month. The new initiative is carefully designed to not only ensure that poor families have nutritious food, but that the food is also enjoyed by the recipients based on their specific cultural backgrounds.
“Everyday Colel Chabad helps people survive,” shared Rabbi Lipsker. “We know that struggling families skip meals because they cannot afford food. The food we give is literally a life-saver for so many. No family should go hungry.”
Israel’s governmental welfare department is responsible for monitoring who qualifies and receives help. “Israel’s welfare department has an entire staff just checking family income and expenses,” said Rabbi Lipsker. “But, once they get the governmental OK for aid, Colel Chabad steps in and is concerned that every person receives what they need in a satisfying and caring way.”
The flavors and wide variety of food preferences for Israeli citizens is fascinating. For example, descendants from Middle Eastern countries often enjoy couscous, rice, chickpeas, and eggplant. Yemenites enjoy jachnoon, a pastry baked overnight and fenugreek.
Those of Ashkenazi descent might like stuffed cabbage, caramelized and peppery noodle kugel or cholent – a long cooking stew of meat, beans and barley.
With the influx of Jews from Ethiopia, who have limited or no western education, Colel Chabad helps many of these families survive. “We spoke with the Ethiopian community to clarify which products were most needed so that they would not only have the food they were used to but also find it a bit easier to make Israel their home,” noted Rabbi Lipsker.
Colel Chabad is finding that their carefully designed food packages accomplish something more than feeding the hungry. They help people become more self-sufficient.
“When people realize that they are thought about as valuable and respected individuals, their self confidence and desire to succeed increases,” shared Rabbi Lipsker. “That care and concern brings hope and builds the confidence needed to strive for a better life.”
To donate to Colel Chabad, please click here.
Written in cooperation with Colel Chabad.