During Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, homes throughout the world share the joy and light that come with celebrating the holiday. Yet, for the estimated 1.65 million Israelis who struggle to make ends meet and live in poverty or loneliness, the holiday season is often met with apprehension.
“Chanukah can be a particularly challenging time for lonely and poverty stricken Holocaust survivors and struggling families,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “Meir Panim strives to lighten the lives of people during the holiday through a range of meaningful activities.”
Meir Panim was established 15 years ago to provide both immediate and long-term relief to impoverished people, young and old, via a dynamic range of food and social service programs. With the aim of helping the needy with dignity, Meir Panim has been recognized by high level officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for its unique and outstanding work.
Chanukah is a particularly apropos time for Meir Panim to add brightness to the downtrodden, as the name of the organization translates to “light up faces.” The organization was named in memory of a boy named Meir, who because of a rare kidney disease had to be fed through tubes and could never taste food. With his passing shortly after his bar mitzvah, his family founded Meir Panim so that thousands could enjoy meals that their son never could partake in.
This Chanukah, Meir Panim held activities to increase light in people’s homes and spirits. “All patrons at our six branches of free restaurant-style soup kitchens received a specially decorated gift box filled with Chanukah goodies like chocolate coins and donuts. Over 1,500 of these were given out,” noted Sternbuch.
Meir Panim’s Dimona branch, located in southern Israel, is enlightening lives by teaching students in its after-school programs that getting and giving go hand-in-hand. The organization arranged for over 100 children, who come from financially struggling or broken homes, to visit nursing homes and home-bound elderly to spread joy and light. They brought goodies, lit menorahs together, sang and entertained these people, all with items supplied by Meir Panim.
The Or Akiva northern Israel branch also arranged for Meir Panim kids to visit the elderly and home-bound to deliver gift packages and share a delightful experience. In addition, a Chanukah holiday party with entertainment, food and music was enjoyed by hundreds of people, not only children who benefit from Meir Panim’s care and outreach but also for their families and the community at large.
“Meir Panim’s first rule is to treat everyone with respect. Having our children share their special celebration with people outside of their circles helps to build confidence and positive relations with others,” reflected Sternbuch .
The highlight of the Or Akiva activities was a special Chanukah music show, a national attraction for all “regular” children in Israel during the holiday. Meir Panim provided transportation, tickets (which are costly) and a bagged meal for more than 50 children.
“The children wait a whole year for this opportunity,” Sternbuch stares. “Additionally, the parents are so grateful to Meir Panim for providing such an opportunity as it isn’t something these families could do on their own. This normalizes needy children’s lives with an experience that other children have.”
As people all over the world light their eight-branched menorah, adding another candle each night of Chanukah, we remember that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. Meir Panim’s unwavering commitment to the less fortunate people of Israel truly increases the brightness in the lives of the poor and brings encouragement and hope to struggling families and children-at-risk.