Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

30 Tishrei 5762 - October 17, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Yad Eliezer Helps the Hungry and Needy in Eretz Yisroel
by Moshe Schapiro

The 12-member Cohen family was already receiving Yad Eliezer's monthly food deliveries when Mr. Cohen developed a serious illness. Seeing that the staple foods would not be sufficient, the organization responded by providing the family with prepared Shabbos meals each week.

"I just didn't have the strength to deal with the suffering in the hospital and the hunger at home," Mrs. Cohen said. "Until Yad Eliezer came, we never had chicken or fish or dairy products. The children didn't know what fruits and vegetables were. All their clothes were second-hand and their shoes usually didn't fit them."

Another family was planning to celebrate Pesach with nothing but matzo and water. "Someone knocked on my door," the mother said after Yad Eliezer arrived with prepared food for the Yom Tov. "It was like an angel coming into my kitchen."

Yad Eliezer, known for its food basket deliveries to 3,500- 4,000 families each month, has expanded in both numbers and in reach. From formula for babies to apartment renovations, Yad Eliezer today helps people in countless ways and at every stage of life.

Dov Weisel, Yad Eliezer's director, said the organization strives to help people who "are unable to come knocking on your door" to ask for help. Many of the families have no electricity or hot water, even in the winter. Some families are living in such harsh conditions they are not even able to seek help in Eretz Yisroel, and certainly not in the United States. When the children get sick, their parents often have to choose between buying medicine for one or food for another.

For such cases, Yad Eliezer has created an Emergency Grants Program. Needy people receive a one-time gift to address a specific need such as a broken refrigerator or a trip to the dentist. The main criteria is that it be a problem that a single grant can solve. Grants sometimes help people become financially independent, such as a recent case of a woman who needed money to buy a sewing machine so that she could provide for her family. She is one of thousands of former recipients who are now off Yad Eliezer's list.

The Emergency Grants Program prevents families from falling into deeper cycles of need. Parents barely feeding six small children often cannot afford to fix a broken stove or refrigerator. Such unexpected expenses can result in hunger. Yad Eliezer removes the obstacles that lead to hardship and keeps families out of the grip of poverty.

Yad Eliezer has also been helping needy families pay for wedding celebrations for 10 years through the Gitty Perkowski Simcha Fund. Yad Eliezer, together with sponsors who donate $1,000, make a wedding that the couple will remember for a lifetime. Yad Eliezer's kitchen prepares affordable meals for three to four weddings each night. Without sponsors, however, no weddings would be taking place.

Helping Those Who Can't Ask For Help

With so many disadvantaged people and such limited resources, Yad Eliezer carefully investigates each of the three to four aid requests that arrive at the organization's main office each day, mostly by concerned friends on behalf of others.

An in-house social worker visits the families and speaks to neighbors and local rabbonim to determine that a family is truly needy. After the initial assessment is completed, a panel of Yad Eliezer's directors meets to determine what type of aid the organization will provide to each new recipient.

The list of recipients is reviewed annually, and each person is provided with counselling services and access to the organization's vast network of contacts. So far, 6,000 people have moved out of the aid program and become independent. Many others, however, will likely remain assistance recipients for life.

"People come to us in many different ways," explains Yosef Berger, a Yad Eliezer social worker. "Some people are referred to us by a rabbi or a neighbor, and some come on their own. People also come through the department of welfare. People go to them and the welfare department comes to us.

"But we don't just give people food," he added. "We give them a psychological lift. They know that no matter what problems they have to overcome, Yad Eliezer will at least be able to provide them with the basics."

Sometimes Yad Eliezer gets referrals from doctors who treat young children suffering from malnutrition. One doctor called Yad Eliezer about a baby who could not support its head because its neck muscles were too weak. In another case, a social worker came to meet a family and saw a crying baby. She asked how old the baby was, thinking the baby was perhaps three months old. The mother told him the baby was nine months old. Children like these, who suffer from malnutrition, are often the most tragic victims of poverty.

To help parents keep their babies properly nourished, Yad Eliezer delivers 7,800 monthly packages of baby formula. Some 1,300 babies currently receive six boxes of baby food each month.

In addition to a proper diet, children have other needs that must be met to ensure that they grow up healthy. They also need role models, people to spend recreation time with them and to develop relationships. Unfortunately, many single parents, especially those who must work long hours to provide food and shelter, are unable to give their children the time they would like to help them grow into productive adults.

Yad Eliezer's Big Brother Program helps fill the gaps. So far, the organization has matched 700 big brothers with children from single parent homes. The big brothers are paid to spend three hours each week with the children. In reality, the big brothers virtually become surrogate fathers to the children, helping them deal with problems, talking to their teachers, and spending Shabbosim with them. The program is set up to serve people who speak a wide variety of languages. It currently includes a number of Russian boys from single parent homes. Yad Eliezer hopes to expand the program to serve girls as well -- when sufficient funds become available.

Volunteers Make The Difference

Yad Eliezer began from a simple act of chesed. Twenty- three years ago Dov Weisel's parents, Hadassah and Yaakov, learned that a family in their community did not have enough food. That Shabbos they cooked a little extra and brought it to the family. Soon, other people got involved. The Weisels began collecting food and directing its distribution.

"Our house was a supermarket," Dov Weisel recalls. "I remember when I was a kid, my father would have to lift me over the baskets of food to tuck me into bed."

Yad Eliezer still attracts people who want to do chesed. Some 10,000 people volunteer each year at its warehouse or for one of its other services in 17 cities across Eretz Yisroel.

The organization's food collection system, which gathers 15 percent of the dry goods that go to families each month, is itself a sophisticated mobilization of thousands of volunteers.

Under the direction of a collection coordinator, groups of volunteers go door to door in primarily religious neighborhoods asking people to donate non-perishable food items they have in the house, from oil and canned food to rice or candy for families with children. The collection coordinator then gathers the food items and arranges for them to be brought to the warehouse. A different group of volunteers sorts the food by category, preparing it for the final group that will load the boxes for needy people.

An additional 35 percent of the food is collected from farmers' surplus. In general, surplus food in Eretz Yisroel is either destroyed or sold very cheaply to neighboring countries to keep the prices high. Yad Eliezer arranges for the surplus to be donated to poor families instead. These fruits and vegetables are of the highest quality, and most of the families had never purchased such high quality produce. Large companies that process food in enormous volume, like Telma, also donate their surplus to Yad Eliezer or sell it very cheaply.

Yad Eliezer also received ma'aser oni food organized through HaRav Yosef Efrati's Center for Halachic Agriculture. Last year, the sixth in the seven year cycle, HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv ruled that ma'aser oni was still applicable and set Rabbi Efrati to oversee its collection. The result was the distribution of produce and cash valued at about $5 million over the course of the year, a substantial amount of which reached the poor through Yad Eliezer.

The remaining 50 percent of the food is purchased mostly from donations from Jews all over America.

A group of boys from Nof Ayalon recently visited Yad Eliezer to help fill food boxes.

Yishai Weissman, a leader of the group, explained the reason for the visit in simple terms: "It's important for us to help the poor," he said.

Barak Biton, a fellow leader, agreed. "Here we feel like we're doing the maximum to help people."

Chana, a New York teacher on vacation in Eretz Yisroel, also came to the Yad Eliezer warehouse after she passed a sign asking people to "Do Chesed" for an hour filling boxes.

"Here, you're helping people actually eat food," she said, as she lined up a row of boxes and began loading the food. She started with oil and soap and then moved on to flour, sugar, and rice. "It makes me proud of Klal Yisroel."

For Dov Weisel, volunteers like Chana are just one example of the partnership that has existed for years between Yad Eliezer and American Jews.

"Many Americans, when visiting Eretz Yisroel, take the time to come to the warehouse and pitch in," he said. "But even those who can't, have long supported our many other programs, truly showing that when it comes to helping a fellow Jew in need, physical distance simply doesn't matter."


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