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.”
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.Daniella Feldman