By Laurence Stein, campaigns manager, Manna, UK branch of Meir Panim

Lawrence Stein

Laurence Stein

My favourite subject at school was arithmetic.

While I was not an especially bright student I was incredibly numerate, and even today I can add or multiply certain figures in my head, occasionally coming up with the correct answer.

Being numerate also means I have a keen interest in and understanding of statistics and I’m very aware any of us can compile a set of statistics to prove a particular point, or even to bolster a weak argument.

However, data gathered last month by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and published by the National Insurance Institute regarding poverty in Israel do not make pleasant reading.

The figures have certainly not been published to bolster a weak argument, nor have they been published to prove a particular point.

They have been published to make us painfully aware that poverty in Israel is on the increase.

In simple terms, 22 percent of Israel’s population live below the poverty line – more than 1.7m of the country’s inhabitants. The number of children living below the poverty line rose from 30.8 percent in 2013 to 31 percent in 2014, while over the same period the increase among poverty-stricken elderly rose from 22.1 percent to 22.3 percent. It is worth highlighting an estimated 60,000 Holocaust survivors are among those who live below the poverty line.

So what can we do to help those of all ages who are living in squalor in Israel? Should we really just sit back and maintain it’s not our problem? A couple of weeks ago during Chanukah, many of us gorged on doughnuts,latkes and other traditional delights. In Israel,meanwhile, many thousands will not even have been able to afford candles.

Meir Panim is one of Israel’s leading relief agencies. Established in 2001, the charity is committed to providing immediate and longterm relief to the impoverished in Israel, while going its utmost to preserve their dignity. Meir Panim runs six food centres throughout Israel which in 2014 served 362,000 meals.

Also, 7,850 food cards worth £50 each were given to those considered by welfare organisations to be most in need; 93,000 meals on wheels delivered and four after-school clubs operated by Meir Panim, two in Dimona and two in Or Akiva, provided academic help, hot meals and leisure facilities for 295 youngsters.

Manna is the UK branch of Meir Panim and due to our fundraising events, appeals, legacies and supporters’ generosity we enrich the lives of those in Israel who desperately and urgently need support.

However, we must emphasise that about a third of all donations received by Meir Panim come directly from Israelis, so we are working together with the Israeli population to help those who need our help.

For most of us, buying challa on Friday morning is a normal occurrence. It is something we take for granted.

However, for the population of Or Akiva in the north of Israel, it is something they would love to take for granted.

Or Akiva is one of Israel’s poorest areas. It has a population of about 20,000, of whom an estimated 40 percent live below the poverty line and some 10 percent are unemployed.

Manna is initiating a Challa for Shabbat scheme for the inhabitants of Or Akiva. All we have to do is arrange for each of our supporters to give £1 per week (£52 per year) and we will ensure those who live in poverty in Or Akiva can enjoy a taste of Shabbat just like you and me.

We are also helping the teenagers who live in Sderot. Most of us are familiar with the town, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

Sderot has been on our minds for more than a decade because of the constant rocket fire that has rained down on its people.

Now the municipal authorities there have asked Meir Panim to operate two new afterschool clubs in the area, one of which will be situated in a bomb shelter.

Who knows – perhaps when the next set of statistics are published by the Israeli Central

Bureau of Statistics we will discover that thanks to your support poverty in Israel will actually have decreased!

When you’re next in Israel, please visit one of Meir Panim’s many projects. We will ensure you are made very welcome.