For most Jews around the world, the High Holidays mean quality time with family and friends, and lots of overflowing joyous meals.
But for those suffering from financial and personal challenges, it can also mean severe stress from overwhelming food bills and other expenses related to a time which should be focused on introspection and happiness.
In the face of growing poverty rates across much of Israeli society, for social services organizations such as Colel Chabad, this becomes one of the busiest times of year.
As Israel’s longest continuously running charity, founded in 1788, Colel Chabad works year-round to help more than 10,800 needy families through a series of projects designed to provide nutritious food and holiday essentials – and even more families and individuals around holiday time.
Boxes filled with everything from rice and beans to chicken and wine are delivered in advance of Yom Tov. Specialty food items to enhance the holiday are included as well. Helping to keep costs down so that all donations go directly to helping those in need, pantry staples including rice, peas, chickpeas and quinoa among other things are packaged, labeled and boxed by hundreds of volunteers at the Jerusalem warehouse of Colel Chabad’s Pantry Packers. In what has become one of the most popular stops on the Israeli tourism map, visitors from all over the globe, as well as local Israelis, take time out from their stay in Israel to take part in this volunteer opportunity for all ages.
Partnering with Israel’s Ministry of Welfare, Colel Chabad manages the National Food Security Program, helping needy families in 48 municipalities with food and basic necessities, and with programming to help dig themselves out of poverty. Events focusing on budgeting and financial planning are attended by countless families, while additional classes and events teach participants how to cook healthier with the nutritional ingredients provided in weekly or monthly food packages.
Families learn to make smart purchases when using a pre-filled debit card provided by the National Food Security Program, and gain confidence in their financial independence. Smart credit card blocks are put in place to make sure these funds are not wasted on alcohol or cigarettes. Monthly allowances on the credit card vary between 500 and 800 shekel, based on size of the family and need.
“Knowing that some of the financial burden of the holidays has been taken off my shoulders allows our family to really enjoy the time together,” said a mother from Haifa, part of the National Food Security Program. “Everyone deserves to have food on the table and a festive meal to celebrate the holiest of days.”
Noticing that not all in need were receiving the support that was available to them, the organization recently launched an online portal that identifies all of the government and welfare agency support available to each individual needy family. The program’s development cost over 150,000 shekel to create the interface that allows the system to survey over 300 different parameters in determining a family’s eligibility for government support.
“Our market research found that most families who require support are simply unaware of the options they have, which in turn leads them further down the cycle of poverty and hardship,” says Mendy Blau, Colel Chabad’s Israel Director. “This program is intended to ensure that people are informed of their rights and we feel confident that with the additional support they become self-sufficient faster.”
The new computer program creates a picture of the family in need based on the number of members, monthly income, health or social handicaps and dietary needs and then compares that information to databases of relevant providers and support networks. Rabbi Blau says that in almost all cases, the system reveals support opportunities that the family likely does not know is available to them.
“The reality is that an informed family that knows their rights and how the government agencies can help them is much better positioned to get out of poverty,” he said. “Almost none of the families we help want to be in that position and by being given a financial push to overcome their challenges, very often will find the way towards financial independence which is the ultimate goal of both sides of the equation.”
“As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we want all of these families to know that they are not forgotten,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad. “We strive to give them the feeling of confidence that with the start of the New Year, their futures can and will be brighter. By doing so we hope and pray that we will all merit a happy, healthy and successful new year.”