By Gaby Blauer, Executive Director, MANNA: Meir Panim UK
It’s easy to think of Israel as a modern, technologically-advanced nation with a burgeoning economy. We’ve become accustomed to reading exciting stories of Israeli companies regularly being sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Every time we visit the country, we see the skyline transformed by the presence of many new tall buildings. Even Israeli ministers now come here to tell us how great the economy is. All of this is, of course, something we can rightly be proud of. But it’s not the full story.
Israel tops many league tables for its fantastic achievements but coming first in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) table of poverty – that’s ahead of 24 other European countries – is not one that should bring any satisfaction.
More than 1.7 million Israelis live in poverty. This is the other Israel that you and I don’t see. There are Holocaust survivors like Magda, aged 85, who goes hungry most days. She has to decide whether to spend her money on food or other expenses, such as rent, medicine, heating and electricity. She gets by on a little bread and some soup she makes from potato peelings.
There are children like Tammy, eight, who came to Israel from Russia with her mother and often just gets a glass of water for breakfast. She also goes to school without anything for lunch and has to share her friend Ayala’s fruit or, if she’s lucky, a bit of her sandwich.
As we all prepare for Pesach, with our shopping baskets full, and look forward to celebrating the festival with our families, we need to recognise that despite Israel’s remarkable successes, a significant proportion of its population is hungry. In fact, worryingly, the problem is getting worse. Just under 25 percent of the population now lives below the breadline compared with 19 percent a decade ago.
MANNA is the UK branch of Meir Panim, an Israeli charity that in the last decade has begun to make a difference for those living in poverty. Supported by donors in the UK, France, USA and Israel – more than a third of its donations come from Israelis – and more than 3,000 volunteers, the charity provides food to tens of thousands of Israelis every year.
Some of this comes in the form of hot meals served through its national network of food centres and delivered by its Meals on Wheels service. Many of the charity’s beneficiaries are given special food shopping cards so they can buy food without embarrassment.
At Pesach, there are special initiatives: a communal seder for 200 people in Dimona and 60 people in Haifa, 2,000 Holocaust survivors and lone Israelis are placed in family sedarim and food cards for the festival are distributed to another 2,000 families.
Making a difference here doesn’t involve great expense, but the impact is significant. Just £18 feeds a child for a week. So as you read the Haggadah this year, please don’t forget the children of Israel of today.
They need to be freed from poverty and we have the ability to help them.
• More information can be found at www.mannauk.org