Close your eyes for a moment. Now, imagine a quiet desert-city in the southern region of Israel, and a quaint boutique restaurant in which a veritable cornucopia of humanity is sitting and dining together on some of the finest local cuisines, without a care in the world.
At the first table you spot, you are somewhat surprised to see a Bedouin couple from a nearby town enjoying a uniquely Israeli dish, while off to the side you spy an elderly French couple sitting behind a young Ethiopian man who is enjoying his food while reading a book.
As you continue to walk through the mosaic of diners, you notice quite a few Russians laughing at a funny story, and a little further off a small contingent of Canadians from Montreal who are talking about sports with an American waiter from Savannah.
Now open your eyes, and if you happen to be walking through the old section of Be’er Sheva, you may actually spot something close to what you just imagined.
In the heart of the older part of downtown Be’er Sheva lies a restaurant which closely resembles the one described above, by the name of Be’er Sova Community Restaurant. The name of the restaurant, which literally means “The Satisfied Well” , is a play on words that describes the spirit of the eatery and the organization that runs it, while paying tribute to the location it is in.
Located in the biblical city of Be’er Sheva, Be’er Sova follows in the footsteps of Abraham who was known in the Bible for providing wayfarers and those in need with hospitality and a nourishing meal. The organization was founded upon those very same ideals, creating a community through caring and helping those in need.
Be’er Sova was founded by a group of friends, local residents of Be’er Sheva, many of whom worked in the local hospital or university. They began to see a need for a community restaurant when they witnessed other local residents fishing through garbage cans looking for food to eat. The friends immediately began to formulate a plan that would not only provide a place to eat for those in need, but it would also enable those who were down on their luck to get back on their feet.
Now 15 years later, Be’er Sova, which is comprised of only seven staff members and hundreds of volunteers, is one of the major focal points for caring for the disadvantaged in and around the capital of Israel’s Negev. So much so that the government welfare association works hand in hand with the organization to provide for those who need it most.
The organization has developed from a simple mom and pop place to a full sized restaurant and catering facility, and has also branched out into other methods of helping the community. They run several programs for the entire community, with no regard for race, religion or background.
Among the programs are: a women’s group which focuses on social support as well as vocational training to get the women back to work; an after school educational program for at risk youth, including family workshops and helping the teenagers find their place and becoming a proactive member of society; sending out food packages to needy families, soldiers and seniors; and sending out volunteers to visit seniors in their homes to make sure that all of their needs are taken care of, thus providing them with companionship as well as food and other items they may require.
Elizabeth Homans, one of the few part time staff members that works for the organization, told Breaking Israel News that while the organization is continuing with its original raison d’etre of providing food for those who need it, they are continually branching out by creating new programs to help the community of Be’er Sheva wherever they see a need.
“The first goal of the original founders was to provide food for people who don’t have. That stays as a centerpiece of the organization. We will always provide food for those who need it. It is why the restaurant, and the food packages we send out are so important to us,” she explained. “But, over the past few years, we have been working on advocacy within the community in order to get everyone involved and really make this a community based project. And thankfully we have been successful. We would not be able to do what we do without the hundreds of volunteers who come and help out regularly in all of our programs.”
The organization has seen many volunteers come from Ben Gurion University of Be’er Sheva, IDF soldiers stationed on bases both near and far, tour groups, local volunteers from the city itself, as well as neighbouring towns and even from abroad.
“We have gotten a very helpful response from the American organization Mazon, because of the way we help our clients. We don’t just hand out food. We try to make our clients feel like part of the community again, get on their own two feet, and when they are ready to, even give back themselves to the community. We aimed to help our clients to become more independent, and the ultimate goal is to bring them from dependence to independence,” Homans said.
Set in a town famous for being the home to the biblical character of Abraham whose major attribute was loving kindness, the restaurant and organization pride themselves on continuously emulating that same characteristic. However, it is not always an easy task.
The restaurant, which helps between 70-100 people daily, is no longer allowed to have people sit inside the location as was built in the old section of downtown Be’er Sheva where reinforced safe rooms were not built due to the age of the buildings. The continuity of the good works of Be’er Sova, is again being threatened by continued rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
“As per the instructions of the IDF Homefront Command, we can no longer seat people at the restaurant. We rose to the challenge by providing clients who come to the restaurant with a warm welcome by our volunteers and a take-away meal instead,” Homans said. “We also deliver hot meals to those who cannot come and stand outside. Our drivers also deliver meals and food packages to the elderly centers around the city, and to nearby army bases.”
All of the food and support which Be’er Sova provides for the disadvantaged of the city and neighboring towns is donated by private donors, volunteers or food organizations such as Latet (Hebrew for ‘To Give’) for dry goods and Leket Israel,the country’s largest food bank and food rescue services, which provides the fresh produce, and sometimes full meals.
“The concept of Be’er SovaI,” explained Homans, “is one of continuity and of people who care, and want to make a difference in other people’s lives. Right now the pressure, fear and anxiety that we all feel due to the conflict affects everyone, and those who are not in the strongest position in the community have more of a problem of coping. We do the best we can under the circumstances in order to help take some of the stress off of those families so that at the very least they do not need to worry where their food is coming from.”
Homans relayed an anecdote which crystallised how important the work that they do really is.
“We were just in the midst of delivering food packages to soldiers at a base near Yad Mordechai, and we got a call from them telling us they had too many snacks that had been donated to the soldiers by people from all over. They then in turn donated it to us so that we could help the people of Be’er Sheva. We picked up the food and delivered it to local families and bomb shelters around the city. That is what we do, we give from hand to hand in love! And we hope to facilitate others giving as well.”
To see an organization like Be’er Sova in action is to see a small glimmer of God-like kindness amidst the darkness of this conflict, and inspires us all to be a bit more like Abraham our forefather and give to each other in loving kindness.
With the emergency distribution of food packages, a donation of $60 will provide a family of four, with enough dry and canned goods for one week of meals. Donations can be made online by clicking here.