Israel is often found on the front page of the news. Whether due to its ongoing struggle for survival, both on the ground fighting its enemies and in the realm of public relations, the dichotomy of the Holy Land is clear. Yet even those living in Israel can miss an aspect of the country which often goes unseen.
A recent visitor to Meir Panim‘s Jerusalem Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchen discovered a side of the city she had never before seen when she encountered a world of poverty hidden from public view.
Erica Schachne, editor of the “In Jerusalem” and “Metro” weekend sections at the Jerusalem Post, recently volunteered to serve meals at the soup kitchen. She was inspired to volunteer when Meir Panim organized a special event inviting Members of the Knesset, Bridges for Peace, and members of the media to see how the charity organization feeds hundreds of impoverished citizens living in Jerusalem daily.
“It was rewarding to see the work of Meir Panim, feeding everyone who walked through their doors with care and dignity,” Schachne stated. “This helped me see a side of Jerusalem I don’t normally see.”
There are 1.7 million Israeli citizens living below the poverty line, along with 800,000 children. This often marginalized population can sometimes be seen panhandling near the Western Wall or in Jerusalem’s pedestrian malls. However, the vast majority live lonely, isolated lives.
“For many of Israel’s impoverished citizens, coming to one of Meir Panim’s five restaurant-style soup kitchens located throughout the country is their only meal of the day,” shared Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “We do our utmost to make their experience more than a meal. We try to sincerely care about their welfare and provide some socialization and stimulation as well.”
Sternbuch explained the meaning behind Meir Panim’s restaurant-style soup kitchens. “The difference between what we do and a standard soup kitchen is that Meir Panim patrons walk in and sit down at a table. They are served their hot meal with a smile, just like one would be served in a restaurant,” she said. “Except, their meal is free.”
As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Schachne moved to Israel for both “good, old-fashioned Zionism” and wanting to “live in a place where the Holocaust would never happen again.”
She found seeing so many hungry people in Jerusalem shocking. “The people who come to Meir Panim have fallen on hard times,” she said. “They are deserving of our respect and any assistance they need to prop them up. Meir Panim is providing them with high-quality food served with a warm heart and are feeding Jerusalem’s hungry in a respectful and cheerful environment.
“Seeing the work of Meir Panim and being a volunteer was very rewarding,” said Schachne. “I always admire people who volunteer their time and energy to help those less fortunate.”