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
"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
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
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
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
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."