Meir Panim is known throughout Israel as the charity organization which strives to alleviate and diminish the harmful effects of poverty on thousands of men, women and children through their many innovative programs. Perhaps lesser known is the universal welcoming all needy people receive, whether Jewish, Christian or Arab.
Meir Panim is a premiere organization fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in 58:10, “If you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.”
As noted by Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, to Breaking Israel News, “Hungry people all need the same thing, food. Meir Panim welcomes anyone into our six free restaurant-style soup kitchens throughout Israel.”
The organization also welcomes volunteers, who make up the staff of most Meir Panim restaurants. Mahmud, an Arab Israeli from the Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat, has been volunteering at the Meir Panim Jerusalem branch for the past three years.
“I was caught driving without a license,” explained Mahmud to Breaking Israel News. “The judge ordered me to either go to jail or do three months of community service. I decided that community service was a better deal and am grateful that I was placed at Meir Panim.”
After working in Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchen, Mahmud realized he wanted to become a more permanent part of the special work done there. He has continued volunteering ever since. Mahmud, who works in the evenings, donates his time every Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at Meir Panim.
Mahmud does not receive a salary from Meir Panim but he certainly receives their appreciation. “Mahmud is definitely part of the Meir Panim family at this point,” smiled Sternbuch to Breaking Israel News. “He is an amazing help to us.”
“I earn a living working evenings in an office,” Mahmud told Breaking Israel News. “But Meir Panim always has a place in my heart. I love this place.”
Recognizing that anyone who crosses the Meir Panim threshold for a meal is helped with respect and dignity, Mahmud shared, “Meir Panim gives with an open heart and hand and at the same time, does not make needy people beg or feel lesser.”
Patrons to Meir Panim free restaurant-style soup kitchens never stand in a line to ask for food. Rather, they come into the pleasantly decorated restaurant and sit down. A volunteer quickly brings them a full, fresh, nutritious meal. Should a patron want seconds, they are provided more with a smile. Additionally, staff will inquire if there are people at home who need food and will respectfully make up a food package to go.
Meir Panim is not only a place to eat but also a place for lonely people to socialize. “Meir Panim is like a home away from home for anyone who enters its doors,” noted Mahmud to Breaking Israel News. “I really hope that people will keep supporting Meir Panim so that it can keep doing the amazing work that it does, helping people with dignity and kindness. I know people alive today in the merit of Meir Panim providing nutritious meals, fresh food to take home and emotional warmth.”
“I do everything I can to help,” Mahmud concluded. “Whatever is needed and asked of me or what I see needs to be done, I am happy to do. I treat this place as my own home. My family supports me volunteering here because they realize the holy work that is being done.”