There's a great spirit of generosity among Israelis, and indeed all Jews, especially around holiday time. Large groups of volunteers pool their resources around Rosh Hashanah and Passover to make sure that needy folks have enough, so that they, too, can share in the holiday spirit abroad in the land.
But there's a slight bit of a dark lining to the silver cloud of generosity, in the case of most non-profit organizations that distribute food packages. The most efficient way to go about distributing the packages of bread, wine, meat, chicken, vegetables, and goodies for the children, most organizations find – especially when they are inundated with requests for aid – is by giving the packages out at a central distribution spot, where clients gather and wait on line for their package.
Some organizations do try to deliver their packages anonymously, but logistics don't always allow it – and recipients who are in real need are grateful for any help they can get even if it is a bit embarrassing to be seen on the line.
Now, at least one group of needy recipients – injured IDF soldiers, the most beloved of the needy in Israel, – will no longer have to stand on line, if Michael Hershkowitz of the “Matzdeim” organization has his way.
“The custom of giving out food packages is a very praiseworthy one and shows how the Jewish people are connected and care for one another,” he says. “But on the other hand, it is a bit demeaning for people to have to stand on such a line.” Instead, says Hershkowitz, his organization plans to give out supermarket gift coupons - “and this way, injured soldiers who have been through enough already will instead be able to stand with dignity on the supermarket checkout line.”
Distributing prepaid coupons for use in supermarkets and other retail stores is another longstanding Israeli tradition, with employers providing workers with a pre-holiday gift in order to help them alleviate holiday expenses. No one knows why someone has coupons. Hershkowitz's organization has been raising money for months in order to do the same.
“It's clearly harder to raise money for a project like this,” he says. If Matzdeim were giving out food packages, they would be able to solicit a lot more donors, since products are a lot easier to obtain than cash. But it's worth the effort, he says. “I don't wish on anyone that they are reduced to the point where they have to receive charity to make ends meet. It's a difficult thing for anyone, but for an injured soldier, it's impossible – and unfair.”
What really bothers Hershkowitz is that there are soldiers in this situation in the first place. “This is the government's job, but of course injured soldiers, like so many others in this country, are victims of budget cuts and shortfalls.” Among Matzdeim's activities, says Hershkowitz, is marshaling lawyers to represent IDF soldiers who have not received benefits they believe they have coming. The organization also joined in with tent protesters in Tel Aviv this summer, demanding a better shake for disabled soldiers.
“We started the organization about four years ago, and in that time, myself and the three others that are the main volunteers have raised large sums of money for soldiers,” Hershkowitz says, stressing that all money donated to Matzdeim goes straight to those in need, with no money set aside for office or other expenses. “Not only that – over the past four years we have spent over NIS 60,000 of our own money in helping out our fellow disabled soldiers.”
With that, Hershokowitz says, he is proud to be able to do what he does. “We have 500 members – and 5,000 likes on Facebook – and we are going to make sure that every one of the disabled soldiers we serve gets at least NIS 500 for the holidays.”