Jerusalem—In a country and city whose Jewish values of caring and charity have ensured no lack of tzedaka organizations, Yad Ezrah stands out in Jerusalem’s chesed scene. Founded in 1950 by Rav Asher Freund zt”l, one of the holy city’s lesser-known gedolim, and run by his vision even decades after his death, Yad Ezrah encompasses the values of quiet, but comprehensive and effective chesed.
Rav Zvi Waldman, one of Yad Ezrah’s directors, attributes this to the environment in which the organization operates. “In these times of at’chalta d’geulah (the beginning of the Redemption), of the Jewish exile returning to Zion, God needs us to embrace the poor and needy, of all backgrounds, and try to help them with as many of their needs as possible.” Rav Waldman adds that Yad Ezra tries to take this to the next level by not only assisting the destitute and at-risk, but also doing this in a way which does not patronize them—his staff and volunteers give only respect to those they are helping out.
Yad Ezrah tries to fulfill Rav Freund’s vision of comprehensive chesed by providing heavily discounted and even free services and goods for every stage of life. Already from the time of birth, Yad Ezrah has doctors, mohelim and free newborn-baby packages (including diapers, cribs/baby beds and other essentials for the infant), ready for families who may not be able to afford these on their own.
Every Wednesday and Thursday, thousands of food packages are put together in their humble Jerusalem warehouse and sent out to needy families to allow them to have food for Shabbat and the following week. Their soup kitchens are also open daily, to feed a warm, home-cooked meal, to individuals and families who would otherwise have nothing.
Tamar Jonas, a Riverdale native who volunteers at Yad Ezrah while studying in a post-high school program at Midreshet Nishmat in Jerusalem, said that she knew right away, from her first day helping at their soup kitchen, that she had gotten involved with a special organization. “The staff at Yad Ezra always makes sure that I am comfortable, well fed and treated with respect.” They even pay attention to the most minute details so that their guests will feel more at ease, Tamar said, adding; “The salad which I help prepare is cut extremely thinly so that people who are missing teeth will be able to eat comfortably.”
Yad Ezrah also runs several schools and daycare centers for high-risk families and children with special needs, whose education may not have been economically feasible without their help.
As the life cycle continues, and children grow into adults, one of the biggest concerns for a needy family preparing to grow bigger is the prohibitive cost of a wedding. For them, Yad Ezrah is there to help as well. Yad Ezrah owns three wedding halls for families who could otherwise not afford the ceremony, providing the venue and catering at a negligible cost. Their Sarah Rohr Hachnasat Kallah Fund also helps provide the young couple with basics to begin a Jewish home.
As the couple grows into a family, and progresses to later stages of life, Yad Ezrah is still there to help, with many doctors, lawyers and other essential service providers on call and ready to help out needy families with these needs. One of their latest and biggest projects has been opening two dental clinics for needy families. Rav Waldman explained specifically the dental clinics are such an essential necessity: “Israel’s socialized medicine covers nearly every type of doctor, but dental work costs the families a lot, and it isn’t covered by the insurance.” For this reason, Yad Ezrah brought on board very talented dentists who generously give from their time to treat patients who can pay only minimally for their treatment.
Debra Korman, who, along with her husband, Scott, are involved in Yad Ezrah from their home city of Englewood, elaborated on what she finds unique about Yad Ezrah:
“Yad Ezrah is all about the small things. The special smile when someone arrives at the rehabilitation center, to the bond immediately formed when delivering food to the needy where the receiver feels elevated—not needy. We are always impressed with the broad and deep reach of the organization.”
Yad Ezrah’s chesed is not only limited to the circle of life, but also includes programs based around the cycle of the year. Before each season of Jewish holidays, they send out bigger and more chag-relevant food packages for families in need. On Chanukah, Yad Ezrah volunteers go to be misameach and play music for the elderly and mentally ill. On Purim, they distribute matanot la’evyonim to poor people throughout the country. On Lag B’Omer, Yad Ezrah does hachnasat orchim, giving food to thousands of those who come to daven at the tziun of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Their biggest campaign is their annual Pesach programs. Each year, Yad Ezrah distributes maot chittim and comprehensive food packages to thousands of needy during this most expensive and demanding holiday. The diamond of their crown is their special widows and orphans Pesach project, which enables hundreds of needy widows and orphans to find simcha, hope, support and kindred company in this otherwise most difficult time of year for them.
These are just a few of the many ways that Yad Ezrah makes a difference for the Jewish people on a daily basis. They are there to catch the fallen, at every possible stage. Yad Ezrah also has a comprehensive unique one-stop rehabilitation center, Ohr Yerushalayim, for mentally ill. The center is currently undergoing a substantial expansion to upgrade the facility and enable meeting more of the tremendous demand for its services.
By Tzvi Silver/JLNJ Israel
Yad Ezrah is in dire need of help to continue and expand its idealistic and very important missions. In order to become involved in this tremendous organization, please contact Aron Wasserman at [email protected]