When meeting fifteen-year-old Natan, one would never assume that just a few short years ago he was a failing student filled with anger and suffering. Natan has been raised by a single mother with a debilitating heart condition. Four years ago, Meir Panim’s Or Akiva location branch manager Ilanit Hafuta became aware of the family’s situation and has been helping them ever since.
“Meir Panim not only feeds hungry Israelis on a daily basis but also provides a holistic approach to help people get out of the vicious cycle of poverty and have a hopeful future,” shared Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “With the beginning of the Jewish New Year when everyone is looking forward to a sweet year, the story of Natan is one that warm hearts.”
Natan’s parents divorced when he was a baby. His father not only deserted the family but also provides no financial support. Natan’s mother Esther was a factory worker until several years ago, when she collapsed on the factory room floor from a heart attack. Since then, she receives disability from the Israeli government and continues to have severe health challenges.
Esther receives 3,100 shekels ($794) a month in government aid. From this amount she pays 2,200 shekels ($564) for her mortgage. This leaves just 900 shekels ($230) a month for food, electricity and all other expenses.
“Natan arrived a few years ago to the Meir Panim-sponsored youth club,” explained Sternbuch . “Ilanit is one of the most caring and sensitive people I know. When she heard his story, she took charge and turned Natan and Esther’s lives around.”
At the time of Esther’s collapse, Natan was suffering in school. He was aggressive, unable to concentrate on his studies and being bullied because he was overweight. Hafuta’s first action was ensuring that the family had nutritious food to eat for every meal. She also advocated to get Natan into a special school which had the resources he needed to cope with his issues.
“These interventions were the start of a truly new and successful life for Esther and Natan,” added Sternbuch. “Natan’s grades improved and today he is a straight-A student. Through Ilanit’s connections with the police force, Natan even received a badge of honor from the police for his volunteer service and exemplary behavior.”
Meir Panim provided the struggling family with a refurbished computer, which aided Natan’s studies as well as saved his mother’s life. One day, Esther had another heart attack at home. Natan used this computer to get emergency help, saving his mother.Two years ago, Natan turned 13 years old, becoming a Bar Mitzvah, a time when Jewish boys are obligated to fulfill Biblical commandments. This rite of passage is joyously celebrated with a festive ceremony and religious articles such as a prayer shawl (tallit) and phylacteries (tefillin). “Ilanit arranged for a full and festive Bar Mitzvah celebration that was held at Meir Panim,” Sternbuch said. “We supplied everything including food, new clothing for the mother and son, the tallit and tefillin, and lots of joy, love, and support.”
Meir Panim especially values the notion that everyone deserves the feeling of self worth. Esther volunteers at Meir Panim serving food, writing letters, and helping in any way possible. Through this process of giving back, Esther feels like a normal and functioning citizen.
When Natan is asked how he sees his future, he excitedly answers that he is looking forward to serving in the Israeli army. After that, he thinks that he would like to be a dentist. Now, that’s something to smile about.