Much has been written about the enormity of the mitzvah of tzedakah and at Yad Aharon & Michael, we understand that tzedakah is more than merely giving. It is sharing, bonding, relating and connecting. What started as a private initiative to provide Shabbos meals to a few needy families in Yeoville has, over the past 20 years, grown to become the largest food parcels distribution organisation in Johannesburg and, possibly in South Africa. Our brand of Chesed weaves a new fabric of human relationships through one of life’s most basic and nurturing human need: Food.
Many of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from and although I do not suffer directly, I am affected by hunger every day. My 18 years at Yad have taught me that hunger cripples us physically and mentally, indirectly and communally. It reduces the potential of the human spirit to a single-minded struggle for survival. It is a social disease for which we all share responsibility. In accordance with Hashem’s command “You shall open and continue to open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to your destitute in your land”, we at Yad regard the poor man’s plight as our personal problem. If one of us hungers, none can live fully.
In accordance with our quest to remain focused on alleviating nutritional insecurity, every project under our umbrella has been established in response to a glaring need within our ‘Yaddies family’, thereby working towards broadening and perfecting our service to our clients. When mothers voiced their inability to provide nutritionally-balanced school lunches for their children, the Ohr Natanel Monthly Lunch Box Project was our answer. The importance of enabling our clients to enjoy a grocery ‘shopping’ experience cannot be underestimated – both from a nutritional perspective as well as for self-esteem preservation. The popularity of our in-house Supermarket has gained momentum to the point that it has become an indispensable service. Through Chesed from the Garden of Eden, the collections of dry goods and toiletries from our Jewish Schools keep our shelves well stocked and our clients smiling! A vital component of Oneg Shabbat is serving meals which are different to the foods eaten during the week and, to this end, we started the Chickens for Shabbos initiative which assures our families of an otherwise unaffordable ‘treat’.
On Distribution Days, I make a point of spending time outside in between appointments and the distress and disbelief I felt upon seeing some people eating from their food parcels while still on our premises has remained with me to this very day. Had things deteriorated to the point that the Johannesburg Jewish community needed a Soup Kitchen?
The feasibility of undertaking a project of that magnitude played on my mind for many months and it was no coincidence that I came across the following statement in a book on Tzedakah: “If you shall pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted … the Eternal will guide you continually and satisfy your desire with good things and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters fail not”. In accordance with these powerful words, and with the help from my dedicated staff and volunteers, Yad’s Soup for the Soul was established. The instant popularity of the project coupled with the indescribable gratitude from our clients, is infinitely rewarding and parents now bring their children to enjoy whatever may be on the menu!
Inasmuch as I am confident that our clients are deserving of the assistance we provide, ‘chancers’ and advantage-takers are an unfortunate reality in the non-profit world. Here again, I came across an opinion which resonated with my very core: “I’d rather give to 1 or 2 who don’t need it in case I miss the ones who do” and, by breathing new life into others through the provision of a balanced and nutritious diet, their lives merge with our own.
In conclusion, if we are to effectively address hunger, we have to work together to change the current mind-set and conversation. Let’s replace denial with awareness, insecurity with hope, and non-involvement with compassion and nurturing. Last but not least, never stop fighting for a better world. I know I won’t.
Alice Friedman – M.D