Meir Panim, an organization established to help alleviate and diminish the debilitating effects of poverty in Israel, has started a new program. Called the “Challah for Shabbat Project”, Meir Panim plans to distribute 3,000 challahs weekly to needy people at their six free restaurant-style soup kitchens and through their Meals-on-Wheels program.
Meir Panim restaurants are opened Sunday through Thursday. The organization serves nearly 400,000 hot, nutritious meals annually to hungry and lonely people in these free restaurants.
”Our restaurants are not opened on Fridays and the Sabbath,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, to Breaking Israel News. “Though we distribute 30 percent more food on Thursdays to help people get through the weekend and we also provide over 100,000 food packages and about 5,300 food shopping cards annually, we wanted to do something special for the Sabbath.”
Therefore, every Thursday, Meir Panim hopes to provide each patron with two large, freshly baked challahs (traditional Jewish breads eaten on the Sabbath).
At the launch the of the new program, Meir Panim restaurants were beautifully decorated with a festive Sabbath table including a white tablecloth and candlesticks. “Diners were very excited about the Sabbath atmosphere we created with the prepared Sabbath tables and enjoyable background music,” noted Sternbuch to Breaking Israel News.
In one particularly touching moment, an elderly, homebound woman in the southern town of Dimona received her challahs by personal delivery. The volunteer who delivered the challahs related to the Dimona branch head, “I cannot possibly convey the magnitude of my emotion when I handed something as simple as these challahs to this woman. She is weak and homebound and couldn’t make her way to the Meir Panim free restaurant. Her house is bare. She took the challahs, smelled them for a long moment, and broke down in tears. It was a very sobering moment.”
Though the program is costly – the price of each challah is $1.30 – the positive reactions make it all worthwhile.
“Meir Panim helps everyone in need, whether they observe the Sabbath or not,” shared Sternbuch to Breaking Israel News. “However, everyone wishes for a bit of tranquility in their challenging lives. We hope that donors will recognize that sweet, Sabbath challah adds a special sweetness to impoverished people’s lives and will want to support this endeavor.”