Jerusalem Day this year marks the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the holiest city in the world. Free activities in the Old City and surrounding areas will include musical performances, a parade, a prayer service at the Western Wall and free tours of different historical sites.
Israelis and Jews worldwide viewed the reunification of Jerusalem as a momentous event, if not a divinely orchestrated occurrence – a gift to the Chosen People from God. But despite the city’s continued growth and development, there are still thousands of needy residents in the city. The Meir Panim charity organization was established ten years ago to keep those disadvantaged people from going hungry.
Jerusalem has always been a city under siege, falling into the hands of many rulers and governments for thousands of years. After the State of Israel was established in 1948, the holy city was still under Jordanian control. And then, for six harrowing days in 1967, the very existence of Israel was again at risk when Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian military attacked the young country. Against all odds, Israelis were victorious, and along with the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank, Jerusalem was captured and once again safely in possession of the Jewish People – after they had been denied access to the site of the Holy Temple for 2,000 years.
“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
These were the famous words exclaimed by Commander Motta Gur upon reaching the Dome of the Rock. In fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy, General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the IDF, heralded the liberation of the Western Wall by triumphantly sounding a shofar. Soon afterwards, Captain Yoram Zamosh hung an Israeli flag from the top of the wall. The Hebrew date of this miraculous event was the 28th day of Iyar, and this year the festivities will take place on the eve of May 23rd.
When the war ended, much of the city was left in a state of disrepair. While Jews in the Diaspora lived in modern conditions with all of the common comforts of the Western World, many Jerusalemites received their household water from wells or street vendors. Food was also scarce in the Holy City.
In 2007 Meir Panim began its lifesaving work. The organization set up a network of Free Restaurants that feed people of all ages and ethnicities. In addition to the bustling soup kitchen in the Holy City, there are similar facilities in Tzfat, Tiberias, Dimona, Haifa, and Or Akiva. The clients who visit receive freshly prepared, healthy, hot meals every day. Everybody is served without question, and is treated with dignity, respect and warmth.
Thousands of disadvantaged people, including many Holocaust survivors, depend on Meir Panim for their only meal of the day. Today Meir Panim serves over 390,000 hot meals annually, with almost half of those meals feeding hungry children. The soup kitchens, food packages, and food shopping cards that Meir Panim provides ensure that countless men, women, and children have enough to eat.
While living conditions have greatly improved since the times of British, Jordanian, and Turkish control, the city is still a work in progress and there is still much to be done to help its residents. Jerusalemites came together to volunteer during the Six Day War in makeshift hospitals to care for wounded soldiers and civilians, with people of all walks of life working together to ensure the survival of their city. Today, the same atmosphere of alliance still exists among the volunteers who prepare the food for Meir Panim. Senior citizens, prisoners undergoing rehabilitation, and national service volunteers stand alongside each other peeling and cutting vegetable in preparation for each day’s lunch.
This Jerusalem Day, Jews across Israel will come together to celebrate their unending love for the Holy City. Two thousand years ago when the Holy Temple stood, Jews brought tithes of their first fruits as offerings to the God who provided for all their needs. Today, the city is once again in Jewish hands, and Meir Panim is working hard every day to ensure the wellbeing of the city’s neediest residents, making it possible for them to continue living in a reunified Jerusalem.
To donate to Meir Panim, please visit here.