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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘charity’

Meir Panim: Lighting Up Life for Israel’s Neediest Residents

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Charity in Or Akiva, a town in Northern Israel near Caeseria, goes beyond traditional packaged food deliveries, soup kitchens and after-school clubs for the needy. Ilanit Hafuta, director of Meir Panim’s Or Akiva branch, has a tremendous heart and endless commitment to help her neighbors. Hafuta runs a vast amount of the community’s charity operations.

Across Israel, the not-for-profit organization Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs. Since 2000, the organization annually has served at least 300,000 free meals out of a network of restaurant-style soup kitchens, which also prepare meals-on-wheels for delivery to an additional 125,000 people. Meir Panim also targets children in impoverished areas, offering hot lunches, after-school clubs and summer day camps. All programs give dignity, respect and relief to many of the country’s neediest residents.

These projects run strong in Or Akiva, with hundreds of people participating in the meal programs and the beloved after-school programs daily. But Hafuta has not stopped there.

For Jewish holidays, she ensures that there is always something special. “Purim is a favorite for the children in our after-school programs,” she says, explaining that she hands out free costumes every year so that the children whose parents cannot afford costumes can be included in the fun. “At the Meir Panim branch, we host a festive Purim seudah (feast) for families to celebrate the day,” Hafuta says. “We host a special Purim party, too, for the children.” Last year, the party joined with a school in London, where Skype hosted a simultaneous celebration for the kids.

“The most remarkable thing is taking our children from our after-school clubs, who are usually on the receiving end, to hospitals and army bases on Purim,” Hafuta explains. “There, they give out mishloach manot to those who also are in need. This experience teaches that they can also give and not just receive. The children feel an incredible amount of pride and joy in this, and they learn the important value of giving.” Beyond the holidays, every family goes through certain momentous lifecycle events. For Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, Meir Panim extends a hand to needy Or Akiva residents. “Our two-story Meir Panim building is transformed into a simcha and event hall,” Hafuta says. In the months prior to the Bar Mitzvah, a teacher will volunteer to train the boy in learning the Torah portion and the blessings for the Torah and Tefillin. On the Bar Mitzvah date, the boy is called up to the Torah at Meir Panim. The occasion is marked with a celebratory meal with family and friends. For weddings, preparations are made with the help of the community of volunteers and the new couple is married in the event hall, complete with full celebrations.

Sometimes, there are less joyous occasions and Meir Panim volunteers step in to help. “In the past several years, we have helped renovate some 30 homes of needy Or Akiva residents,” Hafuta says, explaining that many of the elderly, the ill and single-parent families in her town live in disastrous conditions. Depending on the need and case, Hafuta organizes renovations, whether structural, electrical or more expansive, and ensures that the homes can be functional for a healthy life. Hafuta and her volunteers recently renovated a decrepit apartment for a Holocaust survivor. “He had the biggest smile across his face after his apartment was fixed,” she recalls. A widower and father of four told Hafuta that she saved his life when Meir Panim remodeled an old two-bedroom apartment into a space for a family, with three rooms and a new bathroom and kitchen.

Meir Panim brings a smile onto people’s faces – that is precisely our goal,” says Hafuta, who has built an operation that nourishes impoverished Israelis with food, shelter, fun and a big dose of Jewish tradition. “When someone finds the good in his or her heart to volunteer, they can make a tremendous difference in the lives of those in need. We have seen miracles.”

The ‘Chicken Lady’ Who Helped the Poor Dies at Age 90

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Bracha Kapach, wife of a scholarly rabbi from Yemen and more widely known as the “Chicken Lady,” died Tuesday morning in Jerusalem at the age of 90.

She earned her nickname because of her individual charity effort to make sure that poor Jews would have chicken and other foods for the Shabbat and holidays. The charity fund drew support from many contributors who did not know the true identity of the “chicken lady,” who was married since the age of 11 to Yemenite Rabbi Yosef Kapach, who died in 2000.

They moved to Israel in 1941 and became the only couple to have been individually won the Israel Price. Rabbi Kapach was awarded in 1969 for his scholarly work on Jewish thought, and his wife Bracha won the prize in 1999 for her charity efforts.

Shortly after the re-establishment of the State of Israel, she founded a textile firm that gave employment to dozens of women. Besides her providing food for the poor, working out of her home in Jerusalem’s Nahalot neighborhood near Mahane Yehuda, she also arranged summer camps for underprivileged children.

The Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia in Israel

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Israelis take part at the Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia charity bicycle race near the Jerusalem Old City walls on October 11, 2013, as they pass the Tower of David complex during a road race in Jerusalem.

The Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia is a worldwide series of cycling events that showcases the passion of Italian cycling and the strength of spirit embodied in the Giro d’Italia, arguably the world’s toughest professional bicycle race.

JERUSALEM BICYCLE RACE

Survey: Jewish Americans More Generous than Non-Jews

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

More Jews give to non-Jewish causes than Jewish causes, and Jews overall are more generous givers than non-Jews, according to a new survey called Connected to Give.

It found that 76 percent of American Jews reported a charitable contribution in 2012, compared to 63 percent among non-Jewish Americans. The median annual giving rate among Jews was $1,200, double that of non-Jews.

Among Jews who give charity, 92 percent of those surveyed gave to a non-Jewish organization and 79 percent gave to a Jewish organization. Additionally, 21 percent gave only to non-Jewish organizations and 4 percent gave only to Jewish organizations.

Younger Jews are less likely to give to Jewish causes, according to the study: 49 percent of non-Orthodox Jews aged 18-39 gave to a Jewish group in 2012, compared to 62 percent of those 40 and older.

The most significant determinant of American Jewish generosity is the degree of engagement with the Jewish community, according to the study. Those who reported more Jewish connections — such as attending religious services, having Jewish friends, being married to a Jew — were more likely to give to charity, and not just Jewish charities.

“Conventional wisdom says that fundraising from Jewish donors is a zero-sum competition, with Jewish and secular causes fighting over smaller pieces of a shrinking pie,” said Shawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart, a Jewish charity research group.

“Connected to Give challenges that assumption and shows us that the stronger a person’s Jewish community connections, the more she or he gives to all causes, and the larger the pie becomes.”

Special Delivery: Meir Panim Pre-Paid Food Cards Make the Holiday Possible for Many Needy Israelis

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

In the days prior to Rosh Hashana, social workers across Israel will hand-deliver 2,500 prepaid food cards to those in need. The food cards, funded by Meir Panim, are pre-loaded with 250 shekels and can be used at major Israeli supermarket chains to purchase food and household items. The cards are made with revolutionary technology that tracks purchases, blocking their use for alcohol or cigarettes, but still grant families the flexibility to customize their purchases.

“These food cards change the way many of Israel’s neediest families celebrate Rosh Hashana,” said David Roth, president of American Friends of Meir Panim. “We previously prepared boxes of staple foods to deliver to thousands of needy Israelis. After some time, we realized that there was a lack of freedom in this, because each family has different needs and preferences. So, instead we worked with supermarket chains to develop technology to offer pre-paid food cards that can be cashed in for goods. These cards give our impoverished brothers and sisters a chance to buy the products they want and need for the holiday, giving them the dignity to make their celebrations special and joyful.” Meal

Last week, Jerusalem resident Asher received his food card from Meir Panim. “This is going to save my holiday,” he said. “I’m going to use this to buy myself a chicken, some fruit and vegetables. If I’m able to, I’d like to buy something new for my apartment.” Asher lives in a 35 square-meter apartment with a caregiver, paid by the National Insurance Institute. He gets a small monthly subsidy from the government, too, but most of the money goes to pay the rent. He spends his days begging for money at a major Jerusalem intersection. Daily, he said, he can earn between 50 – 60 shekels from people offering him small change.

Born in Romania in 1940, Asher, his mother and sister escaped the Nazis with the help of a Christian neighbor. His father was sent to Auschwitz, but survived. Following the war, Asher’s family returned to their previous home but found it ransacked. “We lived very simply and often went hungry,” he described. In 1960, Asher moved to Israel with his wife and worked various jobs – as a plumber, milling corn and on farms – for most of his life. Following his wife’s passing in 2000, Asher was left penniless after paying off debts that had accrued. He was even forced to sell his apartment. Asher explained that he sometimes has to choose between buying food and paying his medical bills. Thanks to the Meir Panim food card, he will be able to afford something special for the holidays.

Yitzhak, his wife and 12 children also will have a happy holiday, thanks to Meir Panim. They received two prepaid cards to buy food and household necessities. “These cards, more than just being an incredible act of kindness and charity, helped bring peace of mind and raised the overall spirits of my family. Even though my wife and I work, we are in a difficult financial situation after paying the rent, child care, and helping my sick mother with her medical care.” Yitzhak often picks up meals from the Meir Panim restaurant in central Jerusalem, especially before Shabbat, and sometimes receives clothing for his children.

Naomi, a single mother of two, shares a similar story. “I come to get food from Meir Panim when I feel like I have nothing at home,” she said. In the summer months, Naomi cannot work because her daughters are out of school. Meir Panim helped her pay for day care so that she could work more consistently. “The card I got last Passover helped me tremendously in preparing for the holiday. I was able to afford food that I would not have been able to otherwise. I am so thankful for the support.”

Meir Panim works across Israel to alleviate the effects of poverty by providing a range of food and social service programs that give dignity and respect to the needy. In addition to pre-paid food card distribution before Rosh Hashana and Passover, Meir Panim’s programs include free restaurants, meals-on-wheels, children’s meal programs, and after-school youth clubs. Since 2000, the organization has served Israelis of all backgrounds, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Names have been changed in order to preserve anonymity.

Things Haredim Do

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

A volunteer at the Tachlit center are busy dividing hordes of food into boxes, to be distributed to needy families before Shabbat and before the coming Jewish new year in Jerusalem.

Tomchei Shabbat (supporters of Shabbat) organizations like Tachlit flourish throughout the Haredi communities, each with its unique, local flavor, but all of them with one, central goal: feed the needy.

Most of them also deliver the food boxes quietly, so as not to shame the recipient. In many places there’s also a feedback system in place, allowing recipients to indicate which goods they like and which they’d rather not receive. It prevents waste, and also makes the proces look more like shopping than like charity.

Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

A Fabulous Evening For The Fashion-Minded

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

What brought together hundreds of Jewish fashionistas to attend an event with women with taste, class and an appreciation for the finer things in life and for an evening filled with laughter, joy, camaraderie, kindness?

The night was not just an amazing evening of cocktails, and fashion shows for women and children, with beautiful table settings and a delicious and creative menu, along with hundreds of raffles with the ability to win thousands of dollars in prizes, but also an evening devoted to the heartwarming ability of so many women to give, to share and to support their friends and neighbors in need in their community and elsewhere.

What brought over 450 women and 100 volunteers together for this amazing extravaganza is an organization called: Couture For A Cause.

Michal Weinstein of Woodmere and Esther Silber-Berg of Hewlett, originally conceived Couture For A Cause seven years ago; philanthropists in their own right and childhood friends. The organization was originally created to “raise awareness for important charities…with glamour and panache…Fundraising with a Flair,” said Michal Weinstein. Their motto, “Putting the fabulous into fundraising,” has been fundraising through fabulous events since 2007.

(L-R) Beverly Pomerantz, Rita Nussbaum, Mimi Thurm, Paula Weinstein Miriam Lifschutz

(L-R) Beverly Pomerantz, Rita Nussbaum, Mimi Thurm, Paula Weinstein Miriam Lifschutz

Michal Lara Weinstein, an advertising and marketing graduate of Stern College for Women and School of Visual Arts, is the creative director of mlwdesign, a full service web and graphic design firm that specializes in social media strategies, graphic design, and e-commerce. Despite her very busy schedule, juggling her successful business and family, Michal has put together creative fundraisers for various organizations, including Puah, Chai Lifeline, Ohel and, of course, Couture For A Cause.

Esther Silber-Berg is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, where she earned a degree in fashion merchandising and marketing. Esther inherited her fundraising ambitions from her father, and was influenced by her mother who ran an interior design firm before deciding to start on her own. As a young girl she also served on the board of various charities, which helped mold Esther into a business savvy woman with a love for giving back.

This year’s “Joy of Life” event benefited the Jewish Kidney Foundation, Project Renewal, and the Shirat Devorah Foundation.

At a chance meeting over a year ago, at a benefit for Project Renewal (an organization dedicated to assisting people suffering from various forms of kidney disease and to saving lives through kidney donation), Michal, who said, “I don’t believe in chances” met Sharon Langert from Lakewood, otherwise known as Fashion-isha, an event planner, and designer whose goal is to find the balance between the practical and the beautiful while upholding the high standard of fine and modest woman. Sharon, a mother of five, donated her kidney through Renewal to another Jewish mom who is thriving today.

The Shirat Devorah Foundation was started to assist a local mother of four children, struggling to get back on her feet after Hurricane Sandy destroyed her home. In the midst of the frustrating fights with insurance companies and FEMA for reimbursement for the natural disaster, Devorah Schochet was diagnosed with ALS.

(L-R) Breezy Beckerman, Sharon Langert, Michal Weinstein. Esther Silber-Berg, chairs of the event.

(L-R) Breezy Beckerman, Sharon Langert, Michal Weinstein. Esther Silber-Berg, chairs of the event.

The wonderful women working for CFAC decided that an event is not just a party, but also a means to demonstrate their achdus, unity, love and support of their neighbor, Devorah.

Michal and Esther, these two dynamic and powerhouse women, were joined for this year’s event by Sharon Langert and Breezy Schwartz, and 100 volunteers who worked tirelessly for six months to make the event happen. Breezy, known for her great shop on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, NY, became involved with CFAC as a way to “give back to a community that has been so wonderful and supportive.” The women who are involved “inspire and drive me… [T]heir creativity and passion for each cause is contagious.”

This year, Breezy ran the raffle department, working 24/7, and as head of raffles she was able through the generosity of the givers/donors to obtain donations for the raffles of over $100,000, e.g., watches, trips, jewelry, vacation and spa packages, wigs, just to name some of the various prizes. Just walking into Breezy’s, her shop, is a bit of heaven and while offering every kind of baking and kitchen supplies, gifts, housewares, etc. she also offers classes and recipes and ideas if you don’t know what to do with all these items.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/queens-long-island/a-fabulous-evening-for-the-fashion-minded/2013/06/20/

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