During the cold winter months, everyone looks forward to a warm meal. However, for millions of Israel’s citizens, a hot, nutritious meal shared with warm-hearted people is only a dream. Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running social services organization, maintains 24 soup kitchens throughout the Holy Land along with an extensive meals-on-wheels program to ensure that 1,076,750 hungry people annually get the food they need.
“Colel Chabad’s soup kitchen initiative, called the Eshel Food Security Project, is designed not simply to feed the hungry but also to inject a greater sense of hope and purpose in often extremely challenging lives,” explained Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad, to Breaking Israel News. “Feeding the poor is a Biblical commandment initially taught by Abraham, who opened his tent in the desert to feed anyone who needed a meal with no questions asked.”
In fact, the Hebrew word eshel was chosen as a remembrance to Abraham planting an eshel tree:
Abraham planted an eshel [tamarisk tree] at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. Genesis 21:33
The tamarisk tree is known to provide shade and a pleasant atmosphere. Having this tree near his tent encouraged desert visitors to stop and enjoy a meal and good company. That is just what Colel Chabad strives to achieve.
Colel Chabad feeds 2,950 people every day irrespective of age, religious affiliation or gender. However, the bulk of its demographic is elderly people, including Holocaust survivors who do not have the means to feed themselves while meeting their basic living expenses. Additionally, younger homeless people, new immigrants to the Holy Land and, often during school vacations, parents with children come to the soup kitchen to eat.
“Nutrition is Colel Chabad’s top priority. No one should ever go hungry,” continued Rabbi Traxler. “However, we also strive to satisfy people’s spiritual soul by sharing Biblical teachings along with serving patrons their meals.”
Colel Chabad soup kitchens are opened 365 days a year with their motto being, “Poverty and hunger do not take vacation days.” Their friendly and caring social workers sensitively inquire about the welfare of regular guests in order to see if the person requires any additional help in their lives.
During a recent visit to Colel Chabad’s soup kitchen in the central Israeli city of Lod, Breaking Israel News met Maya Botarshvili, who has been distributing meals in this poverty-stricken city for over fifteen years. Her constant smile brings warmth to the challenging lives of the patrons who carry heavy emotional and physical baggage yet clearly have very little to carry in their pockets.
Botarshvili knows every regular guest by first name and patiently takes their orders while treating them with respect and understanding. The visitors remarked that they feel that they are in the “presence of a true angel” when they are served their meals.
93-year-old Holocaust survivor Tzvi is a soup kitchen regular. “For decades, I worked as a low-income laborer in a local carton manufacturer,” he said. “Today, I come here to pick up a meal for myself and my helper. Though I am grateful for the miracle of the Jewish State, life has been hard. Maya and Colel Chabad should be blessed for all that they do for the needy community.”
To donate the Colel Chabad Eshel Food Security Project, please click here.