During the winter months, many people across the globe are susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) due to shorter days and long, dark nights. This darker time of year can lead to depression, sleeplessness and low energy levels.
But in Israel, 1.8 million citizens living below the poverty line are enveloped every day with feelings of darkness stemming from the pain of hunger and loneliness. Often marginalized by society, needy citizens suffer from depression, sleeplessness and low energy levels year-round despite sunny days.
As part of its network of social welfare programs, Meir Panim charity organization is arranging special treats and festivities in their five Restaurant Style Soup Kitchens located throughout Israel as well as for the children they assist in their after-school youth clubs.
“Our first priority is ensuring that hungry people have food,” explained Danielle Rubin, Project Director of American Friends of Meir Panim. “Then we strive to brighten their lives further, especially so people can enjoy the Festival of Lights (Chanukah).”
Youth from impoverished families yearn to celebrate just like their peers, and many seniors lack family and friends to enjoy the holiday. Therefore, Meir Panim has arranged for traditional Hanukkah treats to be served in their soup kitchens. This includes potato latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts). “Of course, everything is served with a generous dose of smiles,” added Rubin.
Each Meir Panim after-school youth club will be decorated with the holiday spirit. Joint menorah candle-lighting and holiday sing-alongs will add to the festivities. Entertainment, arts and crafts, face-painting and other goodies are also being provided for the children and their families, who otherwise cannot afford such experiences.
“There are nearly 800,000 Israeli children living in poverty,” noted Rubin. “We all need to do our part to bring some light to the darkness in their lives.”
Especially in Israel’s southern town of Sderot, which continues to be bombarded with rockets and incendiary devices from Gaza, the importance of sponsoring Chanukah celebrations cannot be overstated.
“The town of Sderot is very grateful that their children have a safe and fun place to go after school,” continued Rubin. “Our youth clubs are located in renovated bomb shelters so the children do not have to run for safety when the sirens go off. They are able to enjoy a few hours of calm along with educational activities while the world outside is chaotic.”
As in past years, the Sderot youth programs encourage participants to think about others while they themselves receive services. A strong sense of community helps to stave off some of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that most of the youth experience from the ongoing rocket fire.
During Chanukah, youth club participants will visit the homes of elderly neighbors; joining in lighting their menorahs, giving them token gifts, and exchanging prayers of hope for peace and better days. These experiences help troubled youth build confidence and positive relations with others.
“Meir Panim has been serving struggling Israelis for almost 20 years,” shared Rubin. “Though we try to bring light into the dark lives of impoverished people all year round, we feel a special connection to Chanukah – the Festival of Lights – as in Hebrew the words “Meir Panim” mean “lighting up faces.”