The holiday of Passover, this year starting on the evening of April 10, is generally commemorated by families and friends gathering around a festive table and reciting the story of the Israelites miraculously being taken out of bondage from ancient Egypt by God. The story, read from a book called the Haggadah, begins with the statement, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are needy, come and celebrate Passover.”
However, for Israel’s poverty-stricken populations, celebrating Passover, with its requirement to eat specially prepared foods, is a challenge. “Over 20 percent of Israeli society live under the poverty line and in the Orthodox Jewish community, poverty can reach over 70 percent,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, to Breaking Israel News. “For Passover, Meir Panim increases its efforts to ensure that all who need help to observe the holiday get what they need.”
Though giving tithes is a year-round commandment, there is an age-old Jewish tradition, known as ma’ot chitim (wheat money or wheat fund) which is discussed in the Talmud and has been practiced for at least 1,600 years. People are asked to donate to this specific fund in order to ensure that the needy have matzah (unleavened bread), which is required eating for the week-long Passover holiday.
“Passover food is particularly expensive since there are many Biblical laws relating to its preparation,” continued Sternbuch. “Therefore, Meir Panim is distributing food baskets and pre-paid food shopping cards and holding Passover seders (festive meals) for those who need in order to ease some of the burden Passover places on people.”
Thousands of families will benefit from Meir Panim’s efforts. The organization will distribute 2,500 pre-paid food shopping cards, 3,400 food baskets filled with matzah, oil, wine for the seder, fish, chicken, vegetables and treats; sponsor seders at three of their free restaurant-style soup kitchens for over 300 people; and place over 500 people in homes to enjoy a seder in a family atmosphere.
“Passover places additional pressure on the working poor,” noted Sternbuch. “Schools go on vacation at least a week before Passover, leaving children without proper supervision. Struggling families cannot afford babysitters. Recognizing this problem, Meir Panim is providing a safe and fun environment in our TikvaHope Youth Clubs.”
The main theme of Passover is recognition of the gift of freedom, especially in the Land of Israel. For poverty-stricken Israelis, feeling free from their woes is a near impossibility.
Meir Panim does its best to spread joy and dignity to those who need it most and ease their plight from feeling hungry and lonely. Those who often feel marginalized by society are given an opportunity to feel a bit of liberation, even if only for this moment in time.
To donate to Meir Panim’s Passover fund, please visit here.