Although I am often skeptical of reports in various news media, the latest reports of hunger in Israel are disturbing, to say the least. Even if the statistics presented are slightly exaggerated, we cannot allow a single child to go hungry. We cannot allow a single child to suffer hunger, not in Israel, and not in New Jersey, where I currently reside.
I teach at a local Hebrew school. I am privileged to educate fifth and seventh grade students, and I have done so for many years. At the beginning of the school year I ask them to tell me what they see when they open the pantries and refrigerators in their homes. I ask them to tell me about their school lunches, and the breakfast they have at home. We talk about the dinners we have with our families. I ask if they can imagine having none of that. I ask if they can imagine being hungry and not having lunch at school or a meal that will satisfy at dinner time.
My students often bring cans or boxes of food that we donate to a local food bank. They often bring loose change and put it into a collection box. I exhort my students to bring in items of food, non-perishables, simple toiletries such as toothpaste and soap. I explain that there are families, right here in New Jersey, that do not have these “luxuries”. I ask them to do this every single time we meet for a lesson.
There are a number of Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens affiliated with the school. The money collected goes to these organizations also. I am aware of a number of other organizations in New Jersey, among them Mazon, that work to eliminate hunger.
In Israel, poverty is really nothing new. From the very earliest days of the Yeshuv there has been hunger and there has been poverty. My own parents had to apply for rations and food stamps, something most Israelis did in the years immediately following the 1948 War of Independence. Israelis used to joke about mathematical formulas that equated five olives to one egg.
Hunger and poverty should be the main issues of the upcoming Knesset elections. Candidates running for office should have hunger and poverty eliminating programs as part of their platforms. There is no excuse for any Israeli, be they Druze or Christian, Jew or Muslim, to be hungry.
Those few survivors of the Holocaust should not have to scrounge for food. We should not be seeing images of Israelis having to scrape the floors of markets or dumpsters for food.
The vanishing middle class in Israel is hard pressed to afford housing. The ever-growing numbers of Israelis living below the “Poverty Line” are struggling to feed their families and themselves. If we are to believe the latest reports of the Latet Foundation, 2.6 million Israeli citizens live in poverty.
There are certainly Israeli organizations that work to alleviate hunger, just as there are organizations here in New Jersey. There are Israeli restaurants that regularly donate food to those in need. There are Israeli food banks. There are Israeli charitable organizations feeding and clothing the poor. There are also more than 930,000 children living below the poverty line. The future of Israel is and has always been in its children. That future needs to be guaranteed.
These are real issues, and they were raised before, many times.
Israel allocates a large percentage of its budget to defense. In my opinion there is no argument with that. Israel needs to allocate much greater amounts of its budget to affordable housing for its working class citizens. Israel needs to raise the wages of its working class citizens so that they might see a future other than poverty. Israel needs to establish programs that will provide quality nourishment for every child in every school. Children who live below the poverty line should be provided with backpacks filled with food for the weekend, when they are not in school.
Holocaust survivors, elderly citizens, children and families who have nothing, are not some cold statistics on a report. They are the real faces of Israel’s population, and while Israel largely abandoned the socialism of its founding parliamentarians, it must not abandon its citizens in need.
I teach my students that the Hebrew word “Tzedakah” implies not only charity, but justice. In order for us to live by the principles of justice, in order for Israel to be a just society, its political leaders must present real programs to abolish hunger and create living conditions that will allow all Israelis the right to hope for a better and just tomorrow.
The electoral platforms for those seeking office in the upcoming Knesset elections on March 17, 2014 should lay out those programs that will be implemented on March 18, 2014.