During the celebratory and hectic weeks of the Jewish High Holiday season, it is easy to spend time preparing one’s own family for the holidays and lose focus on those without family or the means to observe the holidays themselves. Therefore, when a group of Israeli High School and Hebrew University students took the time to do good for others and give back to the community by volunteering at Meir Panim’s Jerusalem Restaurant Style Soup Kitchen, people took notice.
The students from Hebrew University are in Israel participating in a semester abroad program. The group, consisting of dance students from all over America, wanted to experience all facets of Israeli and Jerusalem society. This included helping those in need, explained one of the volunteers.
Before the 50 some-odd patrons entered the Jerusalem soup kitchen, the group helped prepare fresh salads. “Meir Panim serves fresh vegetables, fruits and balanced meals in our soup kitchens located throughout Israel,” explained Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development for Meir Panim. “After helping prepare the food, the students greeted our clients with warm smiles, served the meals and distributed Challah breads for the upcoming Shabbat.”
An added bonus to the students’ experience was that they got to practice speaking Hebrew with the patrons. The students had just recently completed Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language course and this opportunity was welcomed by both students and clientele alike.
Most of the group had volunteer experience in their hometowns. However, the students were particularly touched by the dignity in which Meir Panim treats their patrons. “The clients walk into the soup kitchen and take a seat rather than waiting on line,” noted Nayaa. “Then, we volunteers bring them their tray of food and offer a kind smile and a few warm words-as best we could in Hebrew, but many understood English as well.”
“It was refreshing to be in such a non-judgement environment,” shared Jaylen. “Anyone could come in, of any age, any faith, any dress, and be taken care of, no questions asked.”
Lea was impressed that people not only could eat on the premises but also could take food home with them for other family members, their children or their neighbors. “Lea told me that this was particularly meaningful as it highlights how Meir Panim strives to help people wherever they are and however we can,” noted Rozmaryn.
Meir Panim’s southern Dimona branch and northern Or Akiva branch were also recently blessed with volunteers. Groups of 11th graders participating in the Masa Israel program – a program designed to strengthen student national identity and sense of civic service, devoted time to the less fortunate through Meir Panim.
The Dimona volunteers were made up of special needs students along with mainstream students who study together in an integrated classroom. They joined forces to clean the Meir Panim branch and prepared fresh fruits and vegetables to be served at lunch.
The students listened attentively as branch manager Nissim Almakayis explained the the challenges Dimona’s neediest citizens face and the need for compassion to those who need it most.
In Or Akiva, the volunteers helped move furniture into the home of a handicapped recipient of Meir Panim’s services. “Not only does Meir Panim provide meals to the hungry, but we also have a network of social welfare programs,” said branch manager Ilanit Hafuta. “This loving group of volunteers worked tirelessly, with smiles on their faces and full of energy, to help our patron move into their next home and not worry about the financial and emotional stress of working with a moving company.”
The staff at Meir Panim really enjoyed these special groups of volunteers who served with a smile and compassion to Israel’s neediest citizens. “They gave their time and energy with love,” continued Rozmaryn. “We feel lucky to have these wonderful students come and support Israel’s neediest, living the values of volunteering and supporting the community. Of course, we invited them back and welcome all volunteers to Meir Panim’s branches when in the Holy Land.”