Just in: Israel is the sixth most expensive country in the world for groceries. For many of us living in our blessed bubble, the headline means little, maybe a sigh or a click of the tongue. But for many people in Jerusalem, this is a sad and harsh reminder that it’s hard to put food on the table for their families. Many children in both eastern and western Jerusalem go to school hungry – this is a fact I can’t live with. That’s why I am proud to be on the board of Yad Elie, an amuta (Israeli non-profit) that helps give school lunches to kids around the city.
Children are our future. And countless studies show that kids with good nutrition are not only healthier but do better in school. Getting a healthy and nutritious lunch helps them grow in every way. In addition, it can be special for children to enjoy mealtime together. It can help them bond with their friends without fear of people finding out that their families are struggling.
We have all experienced a couple of very difficult years. We know that many families are struggling to regain the economic level that they experienced before the pandemic. We see some of them every so often on our TV news. Most of the people that are shown are middle class business owners whose businesses have been badly hurt by the Corona waves, or cultural figures who lost all their regular income. Both groups present good and convincing cases for compensation.
Less visible on our screens are those who were in more marginal economic positions before the pandemic and who went spiraling downwards, finding themselves in a great deal of trouble. They come from every section of society, Jews, Arabs, migrant workers and asylum seekers, marginal figures who found themselves more marginalized by the new economic reality. It might be hard to believe for those who do not live in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is a very poor city. It is a city in which many wealthy people live, but throughout, there are large areas of poverty, seldom experienced either by the tourists (just returning now) or by other Israelis who come to visit the capital.
These are the families whose children we are targeting. There are many thousands of hungry children in Jerusalem. These are children who at worst bring nothing at all to eat when they go to school. At best, what they bring to school is unhealthy and has very little nutritional value. In either case, it’s not enough sustenance to survive the school day, to concentrate and to learn. And so, many of them simply don’t.
It can be argued that in a society with such great gaps between rich and poor, just about the only chance that kids from economically poor families have to move upwards, away from their family’s economic situations towards a better life with more opportunity, is by success in the school system. And we believe that in order to succeed in the school system, basic nourishment during the school day is essential.
We have no illusions that we can fix all social evils; only governments (maybe) can do something about that. But we do believe that each of us can do something to mitigate some of the worst social issues. Starting to notice the hungry and poorly nourished kids of our city is, for us, a start. We’ve been doing this for well over a decade, looking for the hungry kids in the poorer schools and trying to do something, quietly, discretely, to help them. Feeding them in order to give them the chance to learn. It’s their right. And for us, it is our obligation.
There are many ways to experience Jerusalem: spiritually, historically, aesthetically, through prayer, through literature, through our eyes and through our feet. Different strokes for different folks. Some of us choose to see things through the prism of “Yerushalayim shel Ma’ala” (heavenly Jerusalem), with our eyes gazing upwards. That is a fine way to see the city. But not if it means ignoring the reality around us in “Yerushalayim shel Mata” (earthly Jerusalem). The poet Yehuda Amichai said in his famous poem, “Tourists”, that when people come and visit Jerusalem, they tend to look for the great stories of history and their archaeological and material reflections. But the real stories, the stories that should focus our gaze, are the everyday ones, the stories of the people who live there now. Those are the really important ones. We respectfully agree. And that’s why we do what we do, searching out the needy children among the Jews of western Jerusalem, the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem and the asylum seekers spread out throughout the city. There is no criterion other than real, genuine need.
Israel is a growing thriving country that puts families first. Let’s help all our families feel that way.