Leadership Talk with Sara Arzi

Imahot B'yisroel provides dignified charity with prepaid grocery cards. (Joseph Sherman)

Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’Yisroel is a registered organization that gives dignified financial assistance to struggling single-mothers in Israel.  Sara Arzi is the organization’s Executive Secretary.  She manages all of the organization’s needs including program management, fundraising, and follow-up.

How is Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’Yisroel saving single-mother families in Israel from hunger and poverty?  

Sara Arzi (Courtesy)

Without supplemental income, single-mother families in Israel are doomed to a life of persistent poverty. (Israel National Insurance report).

Among the reasons for this is because the criteria for receiving government subsidies is very limited and working mothers in Israel are already disadvantaged earning much less than men who do the same work.

A single mother who wants to receive paternal support allowance from fathers—or take legal action against them—have to pay hefty lawyers’ fees.

But, they barely have money for monthly rent, food and clothing—and this is how the cycle of poverty goes round and round.

It’s easy to how single-mother families in Israel can completely collapse financially during times when expenses pile up. By giving financial aid during such times, we are literally saving the families from hunger and poverty.

What kind of support do you provide?

We give dignified prepaid shopping cards before Sukkot and Pesach so single mothers can buy food and clothing for their families. Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’yisroel also helps pay for unforeseen emergencies such as utility bills for services that are threatened to be shut off, medical supplies, and urgent therapeutic interventions. We also provide substantial funds for wedding expenses.

During the ongoing Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic when many organizations weren’t able to give, we transferred our aid directly into the single mothers’ bank accounts so they could still buy their needs for Pesach.

You recently started a new program to provide legal expertise and Rabbinical guidance to mothers.  Can you describe these new programs? 

We match up single mothers who have legal or halachic questions with volunteer professionals who can answer their questions and provide them with resources other than the financial aid we give.

In focusing on dignified giving, our recipients are treated as friends and know they can call us with their personal concerns. Naturally, we assist in finding help even if what they need is not within the confines of our organization.

For many mothers, poverty is a vicious pattern leading to long-term dependence on charity. The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that the highest level of charity is strengthening a person so that they are no longer dependent on others.  How can this be applied to single mothers in Israel?

Our vision is to make 0% loans available for vocational training and opening small businesses to end the charity dependence of single-mother families in Israel entirely.  If they receive loans to train professionally, buy equipment, and set up a work environment without paying interest, financial independence can be attained once they are in business.  The same model also works for entrepreneurship and opening stores.

There are many charities and non-profit organizations in Israel.  How is Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’Yisroel unique?

Of course and all the organizations are doing wonderful work!

We are different in several ways.  In addition to being solo providers, single mothers are also the sole caregivers of their families. Having not only to provide food, clothing and shelter but all other needs without a spouse to share the burden is extremely painful and impossible.

Most organizations are already stretched beyond their limit and cannot take on new cases that are coming in fast succession. Because we are a relatively new organization we address the current needs of newer cases.

Additionally, other organizations distribute food packages and clothing but much of it goes to waste because it’s not customized for the recipient’s needs or taste. Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’yisroel gives in a dignified way that lets every single mother decide how to help her family best.

Is the public aware of its moral responsibilities towards single mothers?

There is a lack of knowledge when it comes to understanding the Torah view on helping single mothers. There are many who think that the Torah commands us to take care of widows and orphans exclusively. Rashi explains that the Torah speaks in common language which is supporting widows and orphans who don’t have who to provide for them.

But, this commandment actually includes every mother who is without financial backing. We’re out to fix this mistake and spread awareness of the Torah obligation to support singles who need financial aid. That’s why or organization helps elderly singles forgotten by society, and single mothers including but not limited to widowed mothers, divorced mothers, separated mothers, mothers dealing with mentally/physically ill husbands, etc.

How can 98% of your charity dollars go directly to families in need?

Most organizations pay regular salaries, advertise, and have other huge overhead costs. Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’yisroel is run voluntarily and our office fees are sponsored so 98% of charity donations go directly to the needy.

How many families to you help?

Our organization is dynamic with needs and status constantly changing. We can’t give an exact number but the calls for help keep on growing. I would estimate that we already helped at least 90 families with over 400 children in the past two years.

Is there something that most people miss regarding charity for single mothers?

People are very generous and there are huge amounts of charity given. Unfortunately, need isn’t always prioritized and single-mother families in Israel are often disadvantaged when it comes to receiving charity. For example, if the charity is synagogue based, the mothers aren’t even on the list of recipients.

Additionally, and Jewish law takes this into account when ruling that women take precedence for charity distribution, it’s much harder for a woman to go begging from door to door than it is for a man. And if she is the sole provider and caregiver for her family, when does she have the time to go around asking for charity?

Keren L’bodedot Imahot B’yisroel helps single-mother families in Israel with as many as 12 children. Our average family has 6 children.  Many of them are simultaneously dealing with illness (cancer), mental health challenges, handicapped children, and absent, criminal, and emotionally disturbed fathers.

The single mothers are new immigrants, converts, BT’s, and forgotten senior citizens so there actually several mitzvoth involved when helping them. We supplement single mothers with some financial aid for basic survival needs.

Forget about birthday gifts, inviting married children, paying for art or music lessons, or therapy for hurting children. Is it a wonder that children from single-mother families in Israel are at high risk?

It follows that when you help us support single-mother families in Israel, you’re actually not only saving lives but souls as well. We’re dealing with Jewish continuity, social justice, and equal opportunity for all Jews living in Israel.

About the Author
Sherman holds an MBA from The Kedge Business School, a Grande Ecole de Commerce et de management in France, which included time as an executive exchange scholar at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He has a BA from The University of California, San Diego, San Diego, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University.
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