A gala event was held recently honoring Nissim Elmekayes and the Meir Panim branch in Dimona. Participating in the program were Dimona’s Mayor Beni Biton, Mayor of nearby Yerucham Michael Biton, Dimona Chief Rabbi Yitzchok Elefant, and other dignitaries. The event attracted over 450 people.
Popular Israeli singer Kobi Peretz performed and his talent added to a spirited evening.
Guests were full of praise for Meir Panim’s efforts in serving Israel’s impoverished population. “Meir Panim is a dignified place where people are treated with genuine respect and where holy work is performed every single day,” said one attendee. “The unbelievable amount of giving that goes on here is legendary!”
When rocket fire forced the closing of Meir Panim’s Dimona branch last summer, Nissim, the dedicated branch manager, insisted on continuing service. In times of crisis, he asserted, people are even more in need of Meir Panim’s services.
Therefore, he organized a selfless group of volunteers who cooked, packed and distributed meals to homes and to bomb shelters.
With things back to “normal,” Nissim manages Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchen in one of Dimona’s poorest neighborhoods. With the help of a part-time cook and volunteer staff, he prepares and serves about 400 daily meals, including 150 hot lunches delivered to schools and youth clubs.
Here, “patrons” sit at tables and are waited on by volunteer servers. When they finish eating, their dirty dishes (yes, actual dishes and cutlery) are cleared by volunteers.
According to Nissim, this small tweak in the traditional soup kitchen model helps preserve the dignity of people who are otherwise reminded they are poor every minute of every day … except, if he can help it, for the time they spend in his restaurant. In fact, many Meir Panim “customers” volunteer to prepare food, deliver meals and clean the restaurant because they want to experience the satisfaction and pride of giving back.
Since the event, Meir Panim has been featured in a number of publications and media outlets, applauding Meir Panim’s work. Most importantly, the municipalities of Dimona and Yerucham have both committed to assisting the Meir Panim branch with renovations and other pressing needs.