Her name is Chani. And if you saw her walking on the street you would never know her struggles. She looks like a typical Israeli woman with long black hair, striking brown eyes, and a soft yet powerful smile. But she is anything but typical. In my eyes, she’s superwoman.
I met Chani on “one of those days.” I was running late, as I stepped over scattered toys while sipping an extra-strong coffee to wake up. My 4-year-old gave me a sweet yogurt-filled kiss on the cheek to say goodbye, while my 9-year-old poked me in the eye trying to rub it off. “I love you so much,” I called out to my kids, as gave my husband a high-five with a “tag, you’re it” on my way running out to the car.
At the stop sign, I took a deep breath.
I thanked God for another successful morning getting the children ready for school, and most importantly, for the smiles on their faces.
And then I headed out to Chani’s house.
I had never met Chani. I only knew the bare facts from what I read: Single mother with two small children. Lives in public housing. Ten simple words to describe Chani’s life. But Chani’s life is far from simple.
Chani is one of 20,000 Israelis, including 8,500 single mothers, who receive a $100 gift card from The Fellowship so they can buy food for the holidays and celebrate in dignity.
I have met thousands of Fellowship aid recipients at the more than 450 projects we support across Israel, but in the first moment I met Chani, I could tell she was different.
In the heat of the day, I walked up the stairs of the dilapidated public housing building that had a lingering smell of garbage and an old lady yelling out of one of the windows. When I got to Chani’s apartment on the fourth floor, I knocked softly.
Immediately, a beautiful young woman opened the door and embraced me in a big hug. I handed her the food card, hugged her, and wished her a happy holiday. With tears in her eyes and unending words of thanks, she invited me inside.
When I entered, her adorable 6-year-old son was sitting on the couch with a smile. And unlike my house on so many days, Chani’s house was immaculate. The tiny 60-meter apartment was not only clean and orderly, but compared to the decrepit state of the building, it even looked renovated.
“When we received this apartment, it was so old and dirty that my kids were embarrassed to bring friends home,” Chani told me quietly. “So every day, when I get home from work, after I feed the kids dinner, help them with homework, get them bathed, and put them to sleep, I try to fix at least one thing around the house. After two years of living here, our home finally looks and feels great. And the kids bring friends home almost every day.”
Looking at her son, her eyes began to tear once again. “I would do anything for their happiness,” she said. And then she broke down crying.
Speaking to Chani, she made it clear that she wasn’t crying out of sadness, but rather from joy. She looked around at her apartment — with her bed in the living room, her kitchen a tiny corner, and the bathroom so small only one person can go in at a time — and she smiled through her tears. “I am so blessed. I have two healthy children, a roof over my head, and a job. What more can I ask for?”
Yes. Chani works a full time, steady job. And she is still in need of public housing and food help for the holidays.
Why? Because Chani is one of tens of thousands of working poor in Israel who wake up early, take a long bus ride to work, and clock in every day to receive their $6-an-hour salary. And because there is no national food program, Chani is also one of the tens of thousands of working poor who are terrified for the holidays, because they don’t have money to buy special food to celebrate with.
For the past 11 years I have been learning from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of The Fellowship, how to provide aid to over 1.5 million people in need without judging even one of them. But this time, I couldn’t hold back.
Watching Chani juggle raising two little kids on her own, hold a full-time job, live in public housing, and not only keep her sanity but also her joy and love for life, I admit it. I judged her. And I think she’s superwoman.