Every day my email box is flooded with requests for donations from worthy organizations. Some are involved in providing assistance to those impacted by this pandemic; some are using the opportunity to raise funds for causes totally unrelated to direct assistance. That I will not comment on because what I am thinking about is the efforts, individual and group, to address the needs of those who cannot access food or necessities. Today, for me, it is about what matters most: humane, compassionate, and empathetic responses to a crisis. And about the love that for Jerusalem and her residents that shines through these acts of chesed.
There are many government agencies and non-profit organizations with volunteers moving through the city on a daily basis delivering food, medication, and glimpses of a friendly masked face. We share this information on Facebook and encourage those reticent to ask for help to go ahead and make that call.
And there are the smaller efforts by individuals and small organizations that often go unnoticed and are done with humility and grace.
Earlier today, someone trekked from one part of the city to another to bring me masks and other items from SuperPharm. When I said, “Thank you, such chesed,” she smiled through her mask and said “I like to walk and long walks are good for me”, or something like that. Stacy posts daily on Facebook that she is available to help people get food or medicine. I knew her before this crisis hit, but never realized her level of selflessness. With classic humor, prior to Shabbat she posts that if people need help getting food that they should give her a “challah”.
My friends, Rabbi Aaron and Rebbetzin Bina Poston have for several years sponsored a communal seder in Baka, through their organization Yiboneh, for those alone including elderly, lone soldiers, single people with no families, and others in need of a place to be for Pesach. This year, of course, such an event cannot be held. In talking with the caterer about their dilemma, the caterer (who chooses to be anonymous) told Aaron that he would donate 50% of the cost of Pesach meals so that Aaron and Bina and their volunteers can distribute them to those in need. So far, they have distributed 200 meals including chicken, kugel, charoset, matzah, and wine. When I spoke to Aaron this morning, he was in a rush to deliver more. Yiboneh normally sponsors shiurim (classes) by rabbis, both live and online. After Pesach, there will be an online beit midrash, but for now, they are focused on Pesach and providing food and comfort to those in their community.
The meals have been going to families, elderly, lone soldiers, and benot sherut (young women from abroad who volunteer to do service in Israel for a year or longer). Many of the benot sherut girls had hoped to go home to their country of origin for Pesach, but are unable to. Similar to lone soldiers, many have no family at all in Israel.
Another aspect of the annual communal seder sponsored by Yiboneh is that financial assistance is provided. This year, when it is mostly surely needed more than ever for the population served, that continues to occur when the meals are delivered. Yiboneh has raised the funds from supporters to cover the cost of meals and the financial assistance.
In speaking with Aaron and Bina last night about writing something about their program, their humility came through. Before hanging up, I was told that they see this program reaching out to those often left behind as a model for neighborhoods. The large government programs and larger NGOs are doing great work in neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem. For the people who regularly attend Yiboneh’s annual communal seder, there is probably a feeling of loss of comradeship that cannot be completely replaced. But to know that those who usually welcome them at the seder are bringing food and friendship (socially distant, of course) helps them feel connected. And gives them hope that next year in Jerusalem will be quite different with familiar faces around the seder table again.
For more information about Yiboneh, go to https://www.yiboneh.com/