Some say that the essence of Zionism is Jewish sovereignty over the land, but according to Minister Michael Oren, it’s much more than that. Speaking from Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchen in Jerusalem, Oren (Kulanu) said he sees the essence of the Zionist enterprise in the organization’s “holy work” serving hot meals to the city’s needy. The soup kitchen serves more than 250 meals per day.
Wearing the famous bright red Meir Panim serving jacket over his starched white shirt, Oren said to Breaking Israel News that Meir Panim “represents the best of this country and the essence of the Jewish state and of Zionism.”
Joining Oren was Israel365 founder Rabbi Tuly Weisz, a frequent Meir Panim volunteer. Rabbi Weisz and the Deputy Minister delivered trays of food to restaurant patrons alongside Meir Panim’s regular volunteers. The charity organization strives to treat visitors in the most dignified fashion by having their trays of food delivered to them by “waiters” rather than having them wait in line.
In addition to its chain of restaurants across Israel, Meir Panim runs Meals on Wheels programs, gives out pre-paid food shopping cards and distributes challah for Shabbat, among other projects.
The need for Meir Panim is great. According to the most recent report by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 21 percent of Israelis live under the poverty line – more than in countries such as Mexico, Turkey, and Chile. The OECD average is a poverty rate of 11 percent.
Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim, said that the soup kitchen’s clientele ranges from individuals who are physically disabled to those who are mentally and emotionally unstable, or even seniors who are isolated and use the soup kitchen as a social outlet.
The food at the Jerusalem facility is largely donated through a food rescue program with two area hotels and a local for-profit. The organization has a $7 million-dollar annual budget of which only 2 percent is funded by the government.
“We’re keeping up,” said Ellen Tilles, one of the organization’s regular volunteers, as she prepared a series of trays, elegantly positioning two slices of juicy summer watermelon alongside a plate of meat, potatoes and vegetables. “We try to give them what they want. By and large everyone here on a given day was here sometime within the last month, so we kind of know what they want.”
Tilles added that she wished Meir Panim could give larger portions of meat to its clients and the organization dreams of adding breakfast or dinner.
One patron walked by Oren as he went to return his tray. He smiled broadly and told Oren how much he appreciated the nice people who serve him every day. It gives him the emotional and physical sustenance he needs to go on. Said Oren: “It’s holy work.”