Families volunteering during Tenufa Bakehila's "Shop-Til-You-Drop" campaign in Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Rena Glazer)

Families volunteering during Tenufa Bakehila’s “Shop-Til-You-Drop” campaign in Jerusalem. (Rena Glazer)

One-third of Israel’s population is living in poverty. One-third. One of every three people on the bus with you, one of every three families in your building, one of every three kids in your daughter’s class. Some of them have suffered physical, emotional or psychological tragedies that render them unable to work, while others are part of a seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty, passed down from generation to generation.

When I walked around the Osher Ad supermarket in Jerusalem this week, I saw devoted, young families trying to do their part to make a difference in the lives of their fellow Israelis. Tenufa Bakehila: Building Hope, an Israeli non-profit organization which helps change the lives of Israelis living in poverty, organized a “Shop-Til-You-Drop” Campaign to help needy families get the essentials they need to go about their daily lives.

“We wanted to give people the opportunity to become the tzedakah box,” explained campaign organizer, Rena Glazer. “People are always looking for ways to help, and this way, instead of just giving their money and moving on, people have the opportunity to really consider what others need and what they can do to help.”

Each volunteer family walked around the supermarket with the specific shopping list of a needy Jerusalem family, picking up diapers, food, and home essentials for total strangers. “It’s the nine days,” said one woman with a shrug, “so we decided to do a Yom Chessed with the kids.” In the face of poverty, pain, and suffering, this family chose to spend a precious day of their summer vacation grocery shopping for others in order to demonstrate the concept of “ahavat chinam” (baseless love) in a tangible way.

After they purchased the items off the list, each family went to personally deliver the groceries to the needy families together with a social worker from Tenufa Bakehila. “The volunteers were welcomed into these strangers’ homes with such joy and gratitude,” gushed Glazer, “They showered the children with hugs, and referred to them as ‘messengers’ and ‘angels’ sent to remind them that everything will be okay in the end. They radiated such hope and positivity.”

“We work closely with each family to know exactly what they need,” continued Glazer, “One woman nearly cried at the sight of dish soap, because she had been cleaning with her dishes with bleach since she couldn’t afford to buy more dish soap.”

The “Shop-Til-You-Drop” Campaign provided groceries for 10 families, each with their own story and needs. According to social worker, Avigayil Stenger, among those families are a couple suffering from mental and physical illness and two single mothers struggling to keep food on the table due to mental illness.

The primary mission of Tenufa Bakehila is to assist Israel’s needy in breaking out of the cycle of poverty through rehabilitation, home renovation, and the support of social workers who can help restore their independence. Working in eight cities throughout Israel, the welfare departments of each municipality turn to the organization when they know of a family who is in need of essential home maintenance repairs. Renewing these homes becomes a transformational experience for the families, restoring their dignity, reviving their interest in life, and giving social workers insights into the root issues in the family.

While Tenufa Bakehila’s professional repairmen fix up the homes, their social workers help the family face their challenges and gain access to the resources they need. “What they are getting from the government is simply not enough to live on,” explained Stenger matter-of-factly, “we do what we can to help repair their lives. We eliminate debt, help them navigate Israel’s complicated bureaucratic systems, and even just remember to call them before the holidays. So many of these families have been shunned by their friends and relatives and are feeling completely isolated and overwhelmed with economic, physical, emotional, and psychological hardships.”

Among the more than 250 families that Tenufa Bakehila helps each year are the elderly, Holocaust survivors, physically handicapped and ill individuals, single parent families, new immigrants, families of terror victims, and poverty stricken soldiers. “After we are finish dealing with the mold, leaks, and dilapidated homes, the real work starts,” said Stenger. “We help unemployed parents get back to work, help kids who are falling behind in school, encourage abused women and children to get assistance, help elderly become active in day centers, and assist youth who struggle in the army to find proper jobs in their service.”

During this tragic and hopeless month of Av, the volunteers and staff of Tenufa Bakehila gave me a much needed reminder of how to respond to suffering with action, despair with hope, and to always look for ways to love and give.

For more information on Tenufa Bakehila, visit their website: www.tenufa.org.