Photo Credit: courtesy, Beit Raphael
Beit Raphael soup kitchen in Eilat

Things are getting tougher in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, where the coronavirus has meant individually-wrapped meals for hotel guests and tougher times for the city’s poverty-stricken residents who ate the leftovers from the once-generous dining rooms.

In the past, thousands of vacationers who flocked to Eilat meant hundreds of the city’s poor benefited from the hotels’ culinary leftovers. Many of the visitors are back, but the coronavirus regulations mean the hotels can no longer offer the buffet meals that provided the bulk of the food for the city’s largest soup kitchen.

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Before the coronavirus broke out, Beit Raphael−Latet Eilat received the surplus food collected from the hotels and used it to feed those in need. With the arrival of the first wave of COVID-19 and the closure of the hotels, the municipality entered the vacuum and distributed meals to the needy, also through Beit Raphael.

The hotels have now reopened but paradoxically, this does not bode well for the needy, whose number has tripled. Under the COVID-19 precautions, the hotels are only allowed to serve ready-made, single-person meals, and thus they have no surplus food to donate to the oldest soup kitchen in the city.

Despite this, Beit Raphael has continued to serve the hungry; as a result, it has run up a huge debt of NIS 120,000. According to Zilli Grossman, founder and director of Beit Raphael, this is a death sentence.

“Before the coronavirus, we managed to help hundreds of residents. During the first wave, when hundreds of newly poor people started to come, everyone rallied and we were deluged with assistance. We started distributing food to a thousand people a day and sometimes more,” she says.

“For a month now I’ve been getting almost no food from the hotels, and I have hundreds of people I cannot leave hungry.”

Grossman, who sees this as the project of her life, lives in Jerusalem but spends a few days each week in Eilat to work at Beit Raphael. “I cannot let the place collapse,” she says.

Beit Raphael sees some of the most difficult cases. Recently, a cook arrived from one of the city’s hotels. He is having a hard time working because his daughter Chaya, a 34-year-old terminal cancer patient, lives with him. His wife became disabled when she was beaten by anti-Semitic rioters in Russia in the 1990s, so he takes care of their daughter alone. Chaya desperately needs a medication which is not included in the basket of drugs provided by the health funds; it costs NIS 40,000 (around £9,000). The family has no income; they asked Beit Raphael for help.

Then there is Shelly, a 32-year-old mother of six who has been at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv for several weeks because of her high-risk pregnancy. There is no neonatal intensive care unit in Eilat set up for complex births like the one she is expected to have. The social services department tried to take Shelly’s children away, but then she met Zilli and her life changed; Beit Raphael has been taking care of the family and still provides their food while Shelly is away. “My life and my family’s lives were saved thanks to Beit Raphael,” she says.

The British philanthropic organization JNF-UK is working hard to help Beit Raphael. The organization recently renovated the kitchen at the soup kitchen and donated the vehicle used to distribute food baskets to the needy throughout the city. Now the organization is considering further assistance for the veteran institution — but more help is needed, as daily challenges continue to rise.

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