Hunger is a pressing issue in the international Jewish community, and has been named a critical funding priority by the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Center for Israel and Overseas.
According to center co-chair Scott Isdaner, "Hunger relief, long a Federation priority, is being re-established in the programs we support. Direct relief efforts are in place in Israel, Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union and Argentina."
The center allocates 70 percent of its funds to the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, longtime partners in providing overseas relief. The remaining 30 percent of the center's funding involves elective money the center provides directly to various agencies; JAFI and JDC also receive something through this process.
Meir Charash, the center's director of Israel programs, has seen firsthand the rising needs throughout Israel and the impact of Federation-supported initiatives.
Citing statistics from JDC's Brookdale study, Charash said: "In the United States, 11 percent of the population is facing food insecurity (lack of food); in Israel that statistic is 22 percent. And the National Institute of Social Security in Israel found that of the 6 million people in Israel, 1.5 million are under the poverty line, with 700,000 of those children."
Key groups living in poverty include seniors, Israeli Arabs, the devoutly religious community and immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
Hazon Yeshaya Soup Kitchen in Rishon le Tzion, one of the center's 2004-05 recipient agencies, received $50,000 in funding from Federation. The project, with more than 30 facilities, serves 200,000 hot meals a month. In Rishon le Tzion, direct food services are provided via the educational system to 60 children with special needs attending the Belkind School, ensuring they receive one hot meal a day.
A multipurpose facility to include vocational training is under construction in Jerusalem, and will replace a smaller facility in the same neighborhood.
Longtime Federation lay leader Dr. Elliot Norry recently visited the facilities in Jerusalem. As a mission participant and volunteer, he distributed hot food for lunches on a Friday afternoon to a long line of people, all carrying empty plastic containers to take home food to feed their families for Shabbat. Though saddened by the magnitude of the hunger, Norry said: "It is gratifying and uplifting to play a role in alleviating some of this, both as a volunteer and as a Federation supporter. Most of us have no concept of what it's really like to be hungry."
Another program making a difference is JDC's Bsevah Tova in Kiryat Gat. Federation's $75,000 in funding provides food, health care and housing to poor elderly.
Hunger is not an isolated issue, noted Charash, stressing that educational programs for at-risk populations, such as children, are essential: "If we give these kids the scholastic skill set they need to succeed, this will hopefully break the cycle of poverty."
Federation-supported preventative youth programs include the Goldstein Youth Village, Yemin Orde Youth Village and Leo Baeck Junior High School.
Said Isdaner: "We take very seriously the concept of klal Yisrael - that we are all responsible for our fellow Jews. It is a core Jewish value and integral to the center. We aim to provide support where it is needed most and to enable all Jews to fulfill basic human needs while maintaining a life with dignity."
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