Lior Vaknin

Jews, want to support Israel? Let’s end the hunger in America! (wait, what?!)

The best possible 'hasbara' to create Israel's good name is when Jews and Israelis do good for the world
Free lunch at 12 Baskets Cafe, West Asheville, North Carolina. (Lior Vaknin)
Free lunch at 12 Baskets Cafe, West Asheville, North Carolina. (Lior Vaknin)

During a recent stop on my 50 States Journey, in the magical city of Asheville North Carolina, I got to visit one of the most important initiatives I’ve ever seen!

From afar, it looked just like any other restaurant on Haywood road in West Asheville, but as I got closer, I saw a welcoming sign that says “Free Lunch! All Welcome”.

Free Lunch! All Welcome

The name of the place is “12 Baskets Cafe,” and it’s non profit organization that set itself a goal to provide free food for all! Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

How Does It Work

12 Baskets Cafe receive donations of already prepared food from local organizations currently being thrown away. Food pulled from nightly hot bars, buffets, displays in grocery stores, etc. This is being picked up by their team, and delivered to the Cafe to be re-purposed and shared.

12 Baskets Cafe

What’s also unique about this place, is that you find yourself surrounded by people from all walks of life; from the homeless man to the working woman, everyone has a place in the table, and the conversations and community that is built their, is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

But there’s more, for those who are familiar with soup kitchens and local “feed the hungry” initiatives, you probably thinking this is a buffet style where each person carry his plate, stands in line, and gets a calculated portion of food and then moves on.

At 12 Baskets Cafe, all you gotta do, is find yourself a seat. Within seconds, one of the young volunteers greets you and asks for your order. On the wall, there’s a daily menu which includes (in most days of the week); Indian food, coffee and various desserts.

If you wish to take home some food, they encourage people to do so and provide them with takeout bags.

Where’s Our Responsibility Not Just For Our Fellow Jews, But For Everyone?

We can sit and talk all day about the next Israeli blockchain startup that’s changing the world, or an AI venture that’s disrupting the financial institutions, but I am asking, is there anything more noble than feeding an hungry person? And not just that, but also treating him with dignity and having him feel like he’s part of the society we all live in? I say there isn’t!

When I started this journey, I set to myself a mission to fix the broken Israeli Hasbara, which is usually based on one of these two arguments:

  1. “They are lying, and we’re telling the truth”.
    This is the endless battle of which side is right and which is wrong, in the never ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All those years since the conflict started, and we have yet to realize that there is no winners in an argument. If the other person thinks differently than you, it doesn’t matter how much time, money and energy you’d waste, you still won’t be able to bring him closer to your stand.
  2. “Look at all the good things we do for the world”.
    Again, it doesn’t matter if you sent hurricane relief aids to Porto Rico, a rescue delegation to Mexico City, or even saved humanity for that matter, if the other person believes Israel is killing innocent women and children in Gaza (which it doesn’t, if that wasn’t clear), you lost!

So instead of focusing on ourselves (or on Israel in this case), and how poor we are and how we are being mistreated by the media, the UN and all the rest of the alt-left organizations, let’s focus on other people, see how we can help people with their personal lives, with their personal struggles.

I lived and breathed the Israeli tech scene for so long that it was natural for me to facilitate the wonderful work of the Israeli tech and use it to kill two birds with one stone;

  1. Helping people with their lives
  2. Improving Israel’s image in the general public’s view.

But you don’t have to leave your job and home and go on a 50 States journey if you feel like you want to help your people and do a good and productive Hasbara that’s aligned with the Jewish values and Israeli mentality.

There’s numerous ways to go about it, but here are 2 initiatives you can start today, based on the “12 Baskets Cafe” case.

1. For The Israeli Entrepreneur in New York

There are currently over 250 active Israeli startups in New York City, hiring thousands of employees and spending millions of dollars on HR efforts, among which is free lunch and other perks.

Each day, a different Israeli startup can host a free lunch (if all companies will participate, it’s about once a year), with remaining of food from the day before from other Israeli Startups, and have everyone volunteer for couple of hours and support their local neighborhood.

2. For The Jewish Student On Campus

Jewish organizations on campus such as Hillel, Tamid and others, pride themselves with ingraining the entrepreneurial traits in their students. Here they can have students build local non profits that copy the 12 Baskets Cafe model and will give them actual experience of what’s it like to build a company and run a startup.

“But We Can Get Sued For Food Poisoning”

Yes, I already heard this excuse from one of my friends on Facebook who saw my post.

Listen, let’s be honest here. With all due respect, if a non profit in a small city in North Carolina was able to pass the bureaucracy and make this thing happen, I’m sure the brilliant minds making the Israeli tech scene in New York and the Jewish community as a whole, can figure it out.

All that’s left is your will…

And What About The ROI?

Well, even if you’re a cold hearted bastard (which I’m sure you’re not) who don’t care at all about anything but your startup, here’s something you might want to know –  The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that for 59% of millennials, protecting the environment is something that they feel accountable for, and 53% feel that social equality is their responsibility as well!


The easiest thing to do, is look at the rise of Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitism that’s going around the country and around the world, write an offended Facebook post about it and wait for the world to fix itself.

If we really want to make a change, we must change tactic, stop focusing on ourselves, and see how we can do as much good as we can to the other!

I’ll finish with one of my favorite quotes by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook –

““The purely righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.”

rabbi kook quotes

I hope to see you turn this into action, and please let me know how that goes!

P.S. I’ve recently started a Patreon page, where people can contribute (as little as $1 per month) to my 50 States Journey. This will help me cover the different costs of living on the road.  Click To Support!

Thank you!


About the Author
Lior Vaknin, is an Israeli entrepreneur, and is currently on a mission to promote Israel's Startup Nation in all 50 States, and share with local communities how Israeli tech can help turn anyone to an Hasbara expert and a mini ambassador of the state of Israel. He's a former paratrooper with the IDF and the founder of the largest Israeli-American tech community in New York - Israeli Startups NYC.
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