William Franklin, President of the Jewish Federation of Reading, Pennsylvania, visited the Jerusalem branch of Meir Panim on Sunday to show his community’s support for the organization, which works to fight poverty and hunger in Israel.
The Jewish Federation of Reading has a long-standing relationship with American Friends of Meir Panim, a US affiliate organization that supports the Israeli charity. Franklin, whose tenure as president began last summer, is continuing a tradition of many years.
Meir Panim runs many programs for the benefit of Israel’s needy. One of their best-known projects is their chain of restaurant-style soup kitchens. The Jerusalem branch, which is one of six such restaurants in Israel, provides free meals daily to the city’s needy and is run almost completely by volunteers. During his visit, Franklin helped serve lunch to the hungry diners who came in for a hot meal.
Franklin believes there is a close connection between helping the needy in one’s own neighborhood and in Israel. “If you support the hungry in Reading, support the hungry in Israel,” he told Breaking Israel News. He and his wife routinely give their grandchildren funds to donate to Israeli charities, and Meir Panim is a popular choice, he said.
In addition to supporting Israeli charities, the Jewish Federation of Reading is heavily involved in community and charity work in its own backyard. It runs a program called the Jewish Family Service, which provides activities and support for the Jewish needy in the Reading area, including a regional food pantry and special services for seniors in need of assistance.
Franklin summed up the philosophy of the organization by saying, “Every American Jew was at some point helped by someone else. Now it’s our turn to help others.”
The Jewish Federation of Reading also encourages and supports the building of interfaith ties. “The Jewish community in Reading has good relations both with Christian and Muslim communities,” Franklin explained to Breaking Israel News. The Federation sponsors programs and speakers at two Christian universities in the area.
A new project called “Interfaith Mitzvah (Good Deed) Days” is also in the works, scheduled to start in the autumn. “One of the ideas is that Jewish and Christian kids will join together to wrap up holiday packages for the needy,” Franklin explained.
Franklin’s personal connection to Israel reaches back generations. He told a story about his father, who, after emigrating to America from Vienna in the 1930s, joined the army and fought for the Allies in World War II. Incredibly, he ended up helping to liberate a work camp in which some of his relatives were being held. These relatives now live in Israel.
As a result, growing up, the Franklin family was always very Zionistic and pro-Israel. They regularly sent tzedaka (money for charity works) to Israel. Since 1972, Franklin and his wife have been coming to visit at least once or twice a year.
It is important to them that their children and grandchildren have strong connections to Israel, Franklin said, especially in light of the anti-Israel sentiment now rampant among college students on campuses nationwide. “It’s horrendous and it’s false,” he said.
The Reading community, however, is very supportive of Israel. “Both the Jewish and the non-Jewish communities are fairly strong supporters of Israel. We don’t see a lot of BDS and anti-Israel sentiment locally,” Franklin explained. “It’s a really strong community that supports Israel.”
The Reading Jewish Federation does its best to ensure that its community feels the importance of connecting to Israel. “We give scholarships for kids to come spend a summer here in Israel. We try to bring in speakers to help connect, and I think I got a compliment when I was criticised as being ‘too pro-Israel’ in our local newspaper,” he joked.
Franklin compared the relationship between American Jews and Israel to the relationship between father and son. “You can disagree with Israel, I sometimes disagree with Israel too. They make mistakes. But having raised three sons, they made some mistakes too, which I violently disagreed with, but I still loved them and I still fed them. So you can disagree with Israel but you can’t stop supporting it.”