Israel is home to the largest number of Holocaust survivors in the world. Tragically, however, approximately 60,000 of these survivors live below the poverty line.
“As we commemorate another Holocaust Memorial Day, it is a tragedy that every day Meir Panim witnesses Holocaust victims suffering from hunger, poverty and loneliness,” stated Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim – an organization fighting poverty in Israel. “Meir Panim makes every effort to help as many Holocaust survivors as possible to live out their final years in dignity.”
Meir Panim does this through their network of free restaurant-style soup kitchens, Meals-on-Wheels programs, pre-paid food cards, a “Warm Winter” project, and various activities geared specifically to Holocaust survivors.
“Between 15 to 20 percent of Meir Panim patrons are Holocaust survivors,” explained Benny Eldad, manager of Meir Panim’s northern Israel Safed branch. “Not only do we provide fresh, hot meals but we also give a warm feeling of care and friendship as so many survivors struggle with loneliness.”
In fact, in addition to providing food, physical necessities and social activities, Meir Panim arranges special entertainment to warm the hearts of Holocaust victims and the elderly. Musical shows and sing-alongs are offered in Yiddish, Russian and Hebrew.
With the median age of Israeli Holocaust survivors at 82, there is a pressing urgency to ensure that their last years are lived with a respectable quality of life. As reported by Ynet, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced plans to increase annual financial support for Holocaust survivors and elderly welfare recipients in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 5th.
“Unfortunately, previous Israeli governments have not done enough on behalf of Holocaust survivors,” Kahlon stated at the annual Knesset Holocaust Memorial event. “In addition, there has not been enough done for the economically-disadvantaged elderly population… As the years pass, we see a decrease in the number of Holocaust survivors in Israel. However, what is not decreasing is our desire to listen to their stories, which are an inseparable part of the country’s founding, as well as our desire to enable them to grow old with dignity.”
“Many Holocaust survivors enjoy volunteering in Meir Panim soup kitchens,” shared Eldad. “They feel that they are doing tikkun olam (repairing the world) by assuring that people should not go hungry or scramble for a piece of bread the way they did during the Holocaust.”
The Biblical concept of tikkun olam is alluded to four times in scriptures (Ecclesiastes 1:15, 7:13, 12:9, and Daniel 4:36). It generally refers to doing good in order to help repair the world.
Noting that this volunteer work gives a lot of meaning to the lives of Holocaust survivors, Eldad pointed out that it also helps bring psychological healing to survivors who suffered so much and seek to return the world to a place of beauty and love.
“Meir Panim does all it can to fulfill tikkun olam,” stated Eldad. “I love this place and so do the thousands of people we help every day.”