Several hundred of Israel’s poorest children had a break from their poverty-stricken lives last week by celebrating the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, with joyful plays, games and art – and full bellies.
In the northern Israeli city of Karmiel, 130 kids attended a Hanukkah party on December 11. The event, put on by Colel Chabad, was meant to help the children and their families enjoy the holiday spirit and “not feel poor for a day,” said Ateret Vashdi, who helped plan the party.
The kids had a pizza party and left with dreidels filled with candy, while parents received an educational session about how to use Colel Chabad’s food credit cards, said Vashdi. The Eshel Food Card allows needy families to shop at their neighborhood supermarket for essential foods and household necessities without shame or stigma.
In the southern city of Netivot, where 250 impoverished children and children with special needs attended a Colel Chabad Hanukkah party, each child enjoyed a special sufganiya – a jelly donut traditionally eaten on Hanukkah – and a container of juice.
“These families have no money to go to the zoo or any of the other places that families take their kids over the Hanukkah holiday,” said Yaron Gweta, who helped plan the event. “We make the Colel Chabad parties in a way that the parents can come with their children and enjoy themselves.”
“The secret,” explained Vashdi, “is love and respect.”
Vashdi has been working for Colel Chabad for nine months. In that time, she has seen how the organization goes to great lengths to ensure the neediest families are treated with respect and love. Aside from the food card program, Colel Chabad delivers regular food packages to Israel’s poor. Each delivery is brought to the recipient’s doorstep wrapped like a food parcel from the local grocery store.
Today, Colel Chabad is serving between 6,000 and 7,000 people at a time in 24 cities throughout the country, according to the organization’s spokesperson Menachem Traxler. “There are religious and non-religious families all living in poor neighborhoods. It’s a diverse group that also includes Bedouins, Druze and Israeli Arabs.”
Colel Chabad, founded in 1788, is the oldest continuously operating charity network in Israel. It was founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, with the goal of providing material and spiritual help to indigent Jews living in the Holy Land without compromising their pride and dignity.
Rabbi Zalman taught that the Hebrew word tzedakah means justice, indicating that one has an obligation to give. Likewise, he said that if people give freely, God will give freely in return.
According to the 2016 poverty report published by the National Insurance Institute, there are a total of 1,712,900 people, including 460,800 families and 764,200 children, living below the poverty line in Israel.
“For the children who participated in the Hanukkah parties, it was a miracle come true,” said Vashdi. “The Hanukkah party gave them a chance to truly enjoy.”
This article was written in cooperation with Colel Chabad. To learn more and donate, click here.