We broke the cycle of poverty – From recipient to giver

Past Articles:

By: Machla Abramovitz

How Yad Ezra V’Shulamit  Children’s Center Turned a Child’s Life Around

Zahava came into the Yad Ezra V'Shulamit Children's Center in Jerusalem excitedly waving her first-ever paycheck. This entrance of Zahava’s was so different from when she first came to the Center, and her smile said it all. Now working as a saleswoman, the mature 18-year-old young woman independently supports herself, after having turned her life around.

It had been a long, arduous journey for this quiet, but now confident, young woman. No longer was she the timid, insecure four-year-old child who initially walked into the Center clinging to her mother's hand. She was now self-assured, with an air of nobility and a generosity of spirit.

That self-confidence was apparent as she proudly donated tzedakah to the Center that served as a home away from home for Zahava for over thirteen years. Within this unassuming building, Zahava received a hot, nutritious meal every day. She received warm clothing for the winter, help with her homework, emotional counseling, but most importantly, loving acceptance, and the skills and encouragement necessary to flourish, both emotionally and spiritually.

Coming Full Circle

Walking back into the Children’s Center, Zahava gained a new perspective. She was no longer a recipient, but rather, had become a giver. It was now her turn to help to support children suffering the pain of poverty, and to bring full circle her experience of being on the other end when she first came to Yad Ezra V'Shulamit.

The staff recalled first meeting Zahava and her mother, a young widow who struggled to provide for her four rambunctious, demanding sons, and a quiet, introverted daughter. At the time, Zahava mother’s challenges were insurmountable. Working every day until 5:00pm, she came home to cook and clean, pay her bills, and spend as much time as possible mothering her children.

Zahava's mother simply could not provide for all of her family’s needs. The situation was desperate. Her meager earnings could not provide her family with proper food, let alone clothing and the necessities of life every family requires.

Subsequently, Zahava’s mother was afflicted with depression and anxiety. Her situation was not unique. Astonishingly, despite its “start-up nation” reputation, Israel has the highest rate of poverty of any OECD country. According to the 2018 Alternative Poverty Report, some 2.3 million Israelis, one family in five, including over one million children, live below the poverty line. The primary food for over 75% of children in the welfare system is white bread and margarine, which deprives them of the nutrients that are necessary to develop physically, emotionally, and mentally.

That's where Yad Ezra V'Shulamit steps in. The non-profit
hunger-relief organization empowers thousands of children like Zahava, feeding their bodies and their souls, empowering them to find the inner strength to overcome the stigma of poverty and their family disadvantages, and to finally break the cycle of poverty.

Rav Aryeh Lurie

Yad Ezra V'Shulamit is the brainchild of Aryeh Lurie. As founder and director, he is determined to do whatever it takes to relieve others of the pangs of hunger and the shame of poverty that he experienced more than 40 years ago growing up in Jerusalem. Rav Aryeh, as his staff respectfully calls him, recalls a typical Shabbat meal of boiled bones, grains, and vegetables, which comprised the typical Sephardic hamin (cholent). There were bones instead of meat, which his mother could not afford to buy. Still, the family looked forward to partaking in this warm, savory meal.

Every Shabbat, a Lurie sibling delivered the first bowl of hamin to another neighbor who was hungrier than they were. "I remember walking over the cobblestones of our courtyard in the Bukharian Quarter trying not to spill the bowl of hamin while smelling it," he said. Similarly, the young Aryeh often shared half of his sandwich with classmates who came to school empty-handed.

These were significant lessons learned from his Iranian and Iraqi parents: Not having enough to eat or warm clothes to wear needs not break one's generosity of spirit. Rav Aryeh carried that awareness with him throughout his childhood and adolescence. Later, he and his Persian wife shared their earnings with the needy. They moved their large family into a smaller apartment and converted their house
into a center to feed hungry children.

Yad Ezra V’Shulamit is Born

In 1988, when the house became too small to accommodate the numbers of the needy they supported, Rav Aryeh founded Yad Ezra V'Shulamit, which he named after his parents. Today, Yad Ezra V'Shulamit boasts a Children's Center in Jerusalem and in Bat Yam, where hundreds of children are fed every day. A third Children's Center in Zefat is scheduled to open this year. It will serve an additional 450 children daily who live below the poverty line.

"The average person can't appreciate what poverty is," says supervisor Tefilla Buxbaum, who has been with the organization since 2007. "It means sending children to school with only the crusts of bread left behind from sandwiches they ate the day before, or with no food whatsoever."

Tefilla recalls one little girl who kept asking for a plastic bag day after day. When asked why she wanted it, the child acknowledged that her sister was at home sick, and couldn't come to the Center for her midday meal. Therefore, every day she would bring part of her meal home for her sister, so she could have what to eat.

The children not only lack food; they also are lacking the basic necessities. Tefilla recalls a little girl who arrived at the Center one rainy day in the dead of winter. She was wearing sandals and socks, and only had a sweater to keep her warm. She immediately
received a brand-new coat and boots. "Do you know how a child feels who didn't have a coat and who gets a coat?" recalled Tefilla. Yad Ezra V'Shulamit now gives brand new winter clothing to thousands of children annually. It makes the children feel equal to their peers, and gives them the basics necessities so fundamental to growing up into accomplished adults.

After eating a tasty warm lunch at the Center, usually chicken, vegetables, and a starch, counselors help the children with their homework. Those with learning disabilities or behavioral problems get remedial therapy, paid for by the Center. The Center is continuously abuzz with songs, games, and activities that keep the children engaged. They are provided with the same recreational opportunities afforded to children from wealthier families.

"We take in children who would grow up with a void in their lives. For many, they have no food, and the mother isn't at home, and we provide them with what they need to succeed in life. If not for this care, many would end up on the streets," Tefilla says.

In addition to helping children, every week over 3,000 food baskets are delivered throughout the country. The hagim are particularly challenging. Last year 40,000 families received food baskets or food vouchers for a local grocery store. The sheer amount of food Yad Ezra V'Shulamit distributes throughout Israel is staggering.

Zahava’s Success Story

Zahava is one of the thousands of fortunate children rescued from a life of poverty by Yad Ezra V'Shulamit. Zahava vividly remembers all the kindness she received over the years from staff and volunteers, and now she wants to reciprocate. Zahava now donates tzedakah every month to the organization that provided her with a better childhood and adolescence than she ever would have had without their help.

Rav Aryeh stated, "We feel blessed to have contributed to Zahava's success, and wish her all the best for the future. It is truly in the merit of our generous donors that lives can be turned around like this."

To feed a child or give a family a food basket for the holidays, please go to www.yadezra.net/holidaybasket.