Israelis' pre-Passover Charitable Spirit Has Little Effect on the Plight of the Poor

Physical hunger is not the main problem of people at the bottom rung of wealth. Most of them don't go to bed hungry. It is the hunger for quietude of the soul.

Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai
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Orly Vilnai
Orly Vilnai

The Festival of Freedom is almost here and the food banks are urging us to open our hearts and wallets for people whose wallets are empty. You probably won’t be able to escape what has become one of the hallmarks of the holiday, the schnorr culture. Giving is a wonderful thing, but when it is done only twice a year, there’s no point. No family who received food cartons on the holiday eve will see real change in their life thanks to the rice, oil and maybe coffee they will receive. None of them will find any hope in that carton.

If every one of us who has become a “dropper of coins in the charity box” would adopt a family in distress, we could really help reduce poverty. If everyone in Israel were responsible for one another in a personal way, and not through an intermediary whose operations also cost money, we would see the distress in their eyes and could help where it was needed. Because physical hunger is not the main problem of people at the bottom rung of wealth and contentment. Most of them don’t go to bed hungry. It is the hunger for quietude of the soul, when the fear of the Bailiff’s Office is hanging over your head, when they’re about to cut off your electricity yet again. And it’s also cultural hunger − the dream of going to a movie, just going out to enjoy yourself, allowing your teenager to buy new shoes once a year. And especially, it is the desire to earn a dignified living or to obtain assistance from the government when you are sick or in some other kind of trouble, because the blow usually arrives just when life goes wrong and out of control.

Here are two stories for Passover eve that illustrate the importance of human-to-human “adoption.”

A child and his mother alone

It was neither the welfare authorities nor the school that first saw the troubled 8-year-old Niv. Rather, it was a Magen David Adom paramedic who came a few days ago to take care of Niv after he cut himself accidently with a kitchen knife. The paramedic, Yonatan, was the one to discover how very alone and frightened this child was.

Niv is the only child of a mother who is raising him utterly alone. A few months ago his mother was stricken with heart failure and had to be resuscitated. She is recuperating now at home, but she suffered neurological problems after the resuscitation and has not been able to function fully. Her sister, who is also a single mom, is the only person helping them. Niv and his mother are suffering terribly, physically and emotionally. Niv’s mother receives disability benefits from the National Insurance Institute, but because of bureaucratic complications, they haven’t been able to get nursing assistance, therapy or any help in the house.

Niv, a captivating little boy, full of life, is for all intents and purposes growing up without either parent. Yonatan visits him, helps him with his homework, and tries as much as he can to help, but Niv needs closer attention, especially someone he can talk to, someone who will give him strength.

Yonatan’s greatest fear, and ours too, is that when his mom’s sister can no longer be there for them, the welfare authorities will send him to boarding school or a foster family. That is what the law requires in Israel; that is the way the good of the child looks.

The toolbox of the state’s welfare institutions has never contained what Niv needs so badly − someone to run with. As Niv and his mother are registered with the welfare authorities and recognized by the National Insurance Institute, they are eligible for a food carton on the holiday. You be the judge − how much can this help?

In an old-age home − at 57

If something good does not happen, and at the moment it does not seem likely it will, on April 3, Tali will be evicted from her small apartment in Tel Aviv and the only alternative she has is to move to an old-age home in Lod. While it’s true that these days life in a senior citizens’ home is not the Eskimo exile onto the ice that it once was, one can only imagine the emotional crisis it must be causing Tali to have to move there at age 57.

It all started years ago when Tali, who is recognized as 100 percent psychologically disabled, moved in with her sister in part of a synagogue that had been converted into a small apartment, almost unfit for habitation. For a long time the Tel Aviv municipality claimed, and rightly so, that it owned the premises. It has now made a final determination that Tali must leave the apartment. An assistance association, Ahoti ‏(Sister for Women in Israel‏), which does wonderful work, has been turning the world upside down to help Tali. Attorney Shiran Melamdovsky has been doing everything possible, and the municipality is also trying to do everything, but everything, as it exists in the welfare authorities’ resources, is not enough.

The proposal Tali got was to move to an old-age home in Lod, far from the doctors who are treating her, which will only worsen her psychological state. There is also an option for rent assistance from the Housing Ministry, but that is a long, exhausting process, which, considering the impending date of her eviction, will not help. So yes, Tali is eligible for a carton of food, and that will not help her either.

Volunteers preparing Passover packages for needy families. Credit: Nir Kafri