Connecting to Israel - by supporting its needy

Help private welfare group step in to fill the gap left in Israel's safety net by its massive security needs. Donate to Meir Panim's today.

Meir Panim,

Meir Panim 'restaurant'
Meir Panim 'restaurant'
Yoni Kempinski

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For nearly two decades now, Meir Panim has been filling the gaps left in Israel’s social safety net, providing food, care, and children’s services to those in need around the country.

Founded in 2000, just around the time of the beginning of the Second Intifada, Meir Panim was established with the goal of not only supplementing Israel’s public welfare system, but providing accessible support to those below the poverty line – without compromising the dignity of those in need.

A state welfare system in need of private assistance

Despite Israel’s relatively large state budget, which takes up some 40% of the country’s GDP, ongoing security threats including terrorism in Judea and Samaria, the looming danger of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Iranian expansion into Syria, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, have forced Israel to make security the top budget priority.

According to Meir Panim director of global development Mimi Rozmaryn, the cost of securing Israel has left the country’s poorest citizens without a proper safety net.

“It would be my dream for there to be no need for a Meir Panim. But the reality is that it is needed,” said Rozmaryn. “Our needs for domestic security and military spending are just not proportionate with the size of the Israeli economy. The number one budget item in Israel is defense. We’re a young country living in a bad neighborhood.”

Israel’s massive security spending has left a void in some parts of the social safety net, which are filled by private groups like Meir Panim.

Municipalities and community leaders reach out to Meir Panim for support in a variety of areas where traditional state-funded public aid is unable to cover.

In the city of Dimona in southern Israel, for instance, the municipality reached out to Meir Panim for help in caring for local Holocaust survivors who had fallen through the cracks of the public safety net. These elderly Holocaust survivors were isolated and lonely, yet the traditional welfare system offered them little hope.

“They were lonely and isolated and aging in a way that was not dignified for them,” said Rozmaryn. “We partnered with the city of Dimona to open a day center for these Holocaust survivors.”

Letting those in need keep their dignity

Meir Panim’s long-time trademark has been its unique brand of restaurant-style soup kitchens.

In an effort to avoid the stigma of traditional soup kitchens, which often discourage those in need from coming in, Meir Panim has established a number of free “restaurants” catering to people at or below the poverty line who would otherwise feel embarrassed to come in off the street for a meal.

Some Meir Panim “restaurants” even offer take away.

Along with other services, like afterschool programs for kids, Meir Panim’s work is closely coordinated with local officials and activists to address the needs of the community.

“We work very closely with municipalities to identify what the specific needs are and figure out with community leaders and volunteers and government officials what we can do to aid communities,” Rozmaryn said.

“For example, in Or Akiva, we focus largely on services for children – running camps, after-school programs, in addition to having our restaurant-style soup kitchen, which is all take-away. People don’t want to come to eat at a center, they don’t feel like it is dignified enough in public in that setting.”

Reaching the needy isn’t always simple, however, leading Meir Panim to focus on central locations with easy access to public transportation,

“We spend a lot of money on rent to be able to serve the community – in the community.”

For instance, in Jerusalem, Meir Panim operates a branch in the center of the city, near the Central Bus Station, to make its services highly accessible to Jerusalemites.

In Tiberias in northern Israel, Meir Panim also opened up shop in a central location, enabling the large number of working poor there to easily reach the soup-kitchen – often times on their way home from work.

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How you can help

Meir Panim offers a number of ways for donors in the US, Europe, and Australia to support its activities in Israel.

With the Purim holiday approaching, Meir Panim offers special cards for sale which help fund its care packages to the poor given out for both Purim and Passover.

Many supporters of Meir Panim also sponsor its work with donations dedicated to family events and special occasions or in the memory of loved ones. Upsherins (halakes), bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, and birthdays can all be marked with a dedicated donation.

Meir Panim also welcomes volunteers looking to make their trip to Israel even more meaningful by lending a hand at one of the Meir Panim facilities around the country. Arrangements can be made for single volunteers or groups of any size, and we’re happy to coordinate the timing and duration of your volunteer work.

Meir Panim staff calls on people around the world to "feel free to arrange a visit to one of Meir Panim’s sites to see first-hand how your donations are making a difference".

Many visitors come away from visits to the Meir Panim facilities so impressed they become ‘repeat customers’ – giving again, in the knowledge that the money is going right to the people who need it the most.

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