June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Feeling the Freedom This Passover

The past two years have taught us a lesson or two regarding advance planning (futile) and flexibility (crucial). And so, we at Meir Panim are continuing full steam ahead with operations to provide necessities for Passover, and where needed, a place at the Seder table— albeit with the knowledge that we must always be equipped with a Plan B.

Meir Panim’s patrons come from across the spectrum of Israel society, including the elderly as well as single-parent families, people on disability allowances and the working poor, whose numbers have skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic. This year, Meir Panim has been welcoming an unexpected, completely new demographic: refugees from Ukraine. They started to trickle in around Purim and have been arriving in Israel in steadily increasing numbers.

While the various government agencies are scrambling to help them, they clearly are unable to do it all alone and have been turning to organizations like Meir Panim.

“We’ve seen a lot of refugees in Tiberias and in Or Akiva, and have been endeavoring to fill in the gaps,” said Mimi Rozmaryn, director of global development at Meir Panim. “We have the infrastructure, and we’re ready and happy to do whatever is needed.”

As soon as the refugees started arriving, Meir Panim’s branch managers took the initiative to print signs in Hebrew and Russian welcoming the newcomers and informing them that they can seek assistance from Russian-speaking volunteers. “They’ve been through so much trauma just getting here,” Rozmaryn observed. “We’re trying to help them feel more settled in any way we can.”

Since many refugees arrived with not much more than the clothes on their backs, Meir Panim has been collecting and distributing clothing as well as toys, coloring books, crayons, etc. for the many children.

“We were delighted to provide baby clothing for a woman who was in her ninth month, and who recently gave birth to the first Israeli baby of refugees,” said Rozmaryn.

Dimona, one of the cities where Meir Panim is active, has been identified as one of the locations where the Israeli government plans to settle the masses of refugees. Meir Panim works in partnership with the municipality and will be taking an involved role in helping them further.

As Passover approaches, Meir Panim is going into high gear. Last year, a communal Seder was organized in Tzfat and Dimona; this year, due to increased demand and need, Meir Panim is planning Seders in other cities as well. Additionally, Meir Panim volunteers and staff have been preparing and packaging all the Seder needs, from A to Z, for those who will be making their own Seder at home. There is a pantry basket with staples for the week of the holiday available for pickup or delivered to homes. Prepaid grocery vouchers are another way to provide food security for those who need it most.

Against the background of those preparations, people still need to eat now. Accordingly, all five branches are working around the clock to cook and package the huge amounts of food distributed daily. “While it feels like the pandemic is over health-wise, the financial crisis continues,” said Rozmaryn. “We’re still preparing double the pre-2020 amount in all our branches.”

In fulfillment of its mission to break the cycle of poverty in Israel, Meir Panim operates youth centers for at-risk youth in Sderot. At the height of COVID, kids and counselors at the three centers couldn’t meet due to health regulations; however, they were allowed to do so for volunteering. Consequently, the centers have integrated a strong volunteering component into their regular activities, with very positive results.

Sderot teens are now in charge of packaging and distributing care packages for the isolated and elderly, as well as for soldiers at the local military outpost. Before Purim, they distributed mishloach manot packages, and currently they’re busy with the Passover food baskets that will be distributed all over town.

“The teens are delighted to see the seniors so overjoyed to receive the parcels, knowing that their volunteering really makes a difference,” said Rozmaryn.

“We can only hope that the situation continues to remain stable. We want the people, especially those who live alone and who suffered for two long years in isolation, to finally feel safe and secure enough to once again come to our centers and gain from the social interaction—food for both the body and soul.”

Donations can be made online at www.mpdonate.org, through our toll-free number at (877) 736-6283, or by mail to American Friends of Meir Panim at 88 Walton Street, Suite B1, Brooklyn, NY 11206-4479. All donations made in the U.S. are tax-deductible under EIN# 20-1582478.

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