In Safed, one of Judaism’s four holiest cities, it is difficult to conceive of the utter poverty in which many families live. The tiny city, located in Israel’s northern mountains, has an undeniable spirituality which elevates the soul, drawing many people to it, but there are limited ways to make a decent living to nourish the body in Safed.
Of the approximately 30,100 Safed residents, one-third suffer financial difficulties. Tourism, the city’s most significant industry, is insufficient to support the many artists who flocked to the city following Israel’s Independence, and many who seek spiritual inspiration from the mystical city often cannot find work. Even with two parents working, salaries are often so meager that families fall into the category of the “working poor”.
With the city’s resources stretched to maximum capacity, Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charity, is often asked by local welfare and government institutions to fill in the gaps. “Colel Chabad is recognized throughout Israel as an organization that can be counted on to do all that it can to help people in need,” explained Yorum Mauda, Director of Programing in Safed, to Breaking Israel News. “In the holy city of Safed, Colel Chabad runs several assistant programs.”
Over 3,000 Safed families live on meager welfare payments or minimum wage salaries. These sums do not provide for the basic needs of families. On a regular basis, Colel Chabad hears heart-wrenching stories about residents of the city in need.
“Colel Chabad was contacted by a school social worker with a shocking story,” shared Mauda with Breaking Israel News. “A boy had gotten bitten by a dog. Although the dog had all of his vaccinations, the doctor advised washing the area with soap and running water on the wound for 15 minutes. The single mother burst out crying, stating that she could not afford to keep the water running for that long. In Israel, after several years of drought, we are charged for how much water we use.”
In another story, a Russian divorcée and her two children were evicted from their apartment for lack of funds. Her social worker contacted Colel Chabad, which came to the rescue. The organization now provides the family with a basic monthly basket of groceries, cleaning supplies and shopping coupons. In addition, they helped the family find a fitting apartment and subsidizes their rent.
“In Safed alone, we help at least 350 struggling families,” noted Mauda to Breaking Israel News. “We provide both immediate and long-term help, including the running of youth programs. We pray that through these efforts, the next generation will not struggle like their parents.”
Through Colel Chabad’s program, “Stand Families on Their Feet”, Mauda explained the extent to which the organization will go to help people. A family with four children had two non-working parents. The father was so obese that he was unable to work and the mother was skilled at mending but could not afford a sewing machine.
“Over six months, Colel Chabad worked with this family in every area and the changes are impressive,” noted Mauda to Breaking Israel News. “Colel Chabad provided nutritional counseling for the family and covers the cost for the father to go to a gym and exercise. His physical health has improved so much that he is now able to do office work. We purchased a sewing machine for the mother and paid to advertise her sewing skills. She is now working as well.”
Colel Chabad also brought a team of contractors to their home to fix the dilapidated apartment. Broken appliances were fixed, the apartment was painted and an air-conditioner/heater was installed, all at the expense of Colel Chabad. “In addition, we provided couples and parenting counseling for this family,” continued Mauda. “They now feel much better about themselves and their hope for a better future.”
The city of Safed is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as one of five elevated spots where fires were lit to announce the New Moon and festivals during the Second Temple period. It is considered a position of great strength.
For Colel Chabad, there is no better place to elevate the lives of the downtrodden and light the fires of renewal.