Nobody Told the Hungry Families About the Economic Recovery

Despite recent fanfare touting the end of the recession and Israel's emergence from the financial crisis, volunteer groups and charities anticipate there will be long lines of people for food handouts for the High Holidays. Officials from the Latet charity say they will have to organize some 200,000 food baskets to distribute to needy Israelis just so they could prepare a basic holiday meal.

Officials at the Leket-Israel Food Bank (now called Leket-Israel) say that for the first time, they have directly received aid requests from welfare offices from the around the country.

While the economy may be showing signs of recovery, the global recession has led to a sharp drop in donations and a rise in people's financial distress.

The Itzkowitz Report of 2008 examined the scope of hunger among the poorest Israelis and recommended an infusion of millions of shekels to food charities. But next to nothing has been done.

"The headlines that herald the end of the crisis and the emergence from the recession are liable to render wide swaths of the public apathetic as hundreds of thousands of needy people are only beginning to feel the effects of the recession, and its low point has yet to arrive," said Eran Weintrob, the executive director of Latet. "Given the sharp drop in donations and the increase in poverty and demand, without massive public support we will not be able to provide every needy Israeli with a respectable holiday meal." Leket-Israel provides meals to some 300 charitable organizations nationwide. Some estimates predict it will hand out close to 100,000 food baskets within the next month.

"In light of the current predicament, Leket-Israel is concentrating efforts and is preparing to provide food in time for the Rosh Hashanah holiday as a result of the huge demand," said Gidi Kruch, its executive director.

"This year, we will reach a record in distribution - tens of thousands of hot meals and thousands of tons of foods, fruits, and vegetables for over 100,000 people who are in need of it," said Kruch.

The Itzkowitz Report, which was submitted to Labor and Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog in March 2008, recommended that the state provide between NIS 30 to 50 million in funding for charitable groups. In addition, it called for the establishment of a public committee to monitor food shortages and malnutrition, systematize the allocation of stipends, calibrate the allocation of resources and set policy for food distribution.

In July 2008, a ministerial committee on public welfare approved the report's findings. Yet, in October, the report did not receive government approval due to the objections of then-finance minister Roni Bar-On.

Just prior to the Pesach holiday, public pressure compelled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to order an immediate allocation of NIS 6 million to charitable groups. The Welfare Ministry has yet to indicate that it will transfer funds to the charities. Nonetheless, Herzog appealed to Netanyahu to set aside a supplementary budget for the charities just as he did before Pesach.