God placed in man the desire for self-sufficiency. Yet the Bible states, “The poor will never cease to be in the land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
The charity organization, Colel Chabad, works to reconcile this discrepancy through establishing “Colel Market”, a network of not-for-profit supermarkets. Opened in 2008, today there are four of these unique stores throughout Israel.
“Although Colel Chabad has been delivering food packages to Israel’s poorest families since 1788, for households which are not destitute but rather subsist just above the poverty line, we sought to help them in the most dignified way possible,” explained Yorum Mauda, Director of Programing in Safad for Colel Chabad, to Breaking Israel News. “Colel Market provides struggling families a way to purchase groceries and household supplies independently at a discounted price.”
Colel Market looks like any other supermarket. The aisles are lined with standard foods and household needs. There are cashier lines where shoppers pay for their purchases. The differences are much more subtle.
“We do not carry name brand items to keep costs down,” continued Mauda. “We provide the basics that any family needs to keep healthy and happy.”
When visiting Colel Market, one will find some 600 staple grocery items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken, fish and dairy products. Items are priced about 40 percent below retail. “Though we stock generic brands, the quality of our products is identical to name-brand goods,” said Mauda. “We are providing a regular shopping experience while fighting the escalating costs of groceries.”
The supermarket has regular operating hours and is open to anyone, regardless of gender, age, marital status, ethnicity or religious observance. “We have a no-questions-asked policy in order to protect the dignity and pride of the shoppers,” said Mauda to Breaking Israel News. “Jews, Arabs, Christians, Bedouins, Druze – anyone can shop here to save money.”
Colel Market fulfills the Biblical commandment for helping those in need in the highest way possible. Acutely sensitive to the delicate dynamic between those who are able to give and those who receive, the Hebrew word for the act of giving to the needy is tzedakah. Though commonly translated as “charity”, a more accurate translation would be “justice.”
God blesses certain people as agents to help others. Being in the position to give is not altruistic behavior but rather acting justly by dispensing the good that God has given in the way that He desires.
The 12th century codifier of Jewish law, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides) formulated a hierarchical list correlating the sensitivity of the giver to the needs and feelings of the recipient. The highest level of giving is doing something which helps a person to become self-sufficient.
That is what Colel Chabad achieves through their supermarkets. Profits support staff salaries and store electricity. Any surplus is then turned into huge sales for patrons. For example, during Passover, which is a particularly stressful time for financial strapped people, two pounds of vegetables, including cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, eggplant and more, sold for about 20 cents.
“Our motto is, ‘Only what you need for cheap’”, smiled Mauda. “The significant savings enable families to maintain a nutritious diet while ensuring that their children never go to school or to bed on an empty stomach.”