Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Dealing with Poverty and At Risk Populations in Tel Aviv - This is part of Israel too!
Today, I want to introduce you to the problem of poverty and homelessness in Israel and how an amazing group of Israelis in the Tel Aviv area are creating, supporting, and maintaining programs to address these challenges.
The third program I want to bring to your attention is La Sova House in Tel Aviv. This major operation was the first soup kitchen in Israel and remains the only homeless shelter system in Israel. Today in the Shapira neighborhood in Tel Aviv, known for its abject poverty and hub for “undesirables,” this center is situated with a restaurant located here, three additional Soup Kitchens in Akko Nahariya and Carmiel, and the Gagon Homeless Shelters and the Kadima Youth Centers as part of its large complex here in Tel Aviv. La Sova means “until one is sated/satisfied” and this is the goal of this wonderful complex in serving its “customers and clients.”
Note these introductory words that articulate the problem and explain the work of this remarkable organization from their English web site (which I highly recommend you visit) at http://www.lasova.org.il/page315.html?amp;
"Israel is home to thousands of people who do not possess the means to fund their basic daily survival needs. It is our duty to ensure that hungry people do not walk our streets. With that mission in mind, the LaSova foundation established in 1990 a restaurant dedicated to serving the needy in Tel Aviv. The restaurant is located in the main floor of "LASOVA HOUSE- Multi Services Center for Needy People" 18 Tchlenov St. nearby the troubled area near the Central Bus Depot, where thousands of needy people reside, many of whom are immigrants, unemployed, disabled, or elderly. In 2003, we established two more such restaurants, one in Acre and one in Carmiel.
At LaSova restaurant, every customer receives a nutritious, filling, kosher hot meal, and may eat as much as he or she desires. We serve all people free of charge, with no questions asked, no criteria for admission, and no referrals or paperwork. Contrary to the somber and often humiliating image of soup-kitchens, any person can come to LaSova restaurant to dine in a respectable manner, while sitting at a clean, well-lit and spacious venue.
LaSova Foundation feeds 2,300 needy people everyday at our various venues: soup-kitchens, shelters for the homeless, as well as 1,000 children and youth at 20 “Kadima” centers for kids and youth at high risk. In addition, we operate a free used-clothes distribution center near each one of our locations.
LaSova restaurants employ 4 people in full-time positions, as well as two employees with disabilities, who are referred to us through the Social Security Administration. All other workers are either volunteers or those sentenced by the court to community service."
Please note exactly how remarkable this system is. First of all, the place where people eat is called a restaurant. We saw it. There is dignity, concern, calm and caring in this place. There is no money exchanged though a one shekel donation is recommended for those who can afford to give it. The food is tasty, well prepared and served with respect and regard to the “customers.” This is a great place and really makes me proud of Israel and what Israelis have decided to do through their volunteerism and caring for others. What wonderful volunteers we met and the pride with which the restaurant and the shelters (homes for those who reside there) are kept was just awesome (really, I mean it, AWESOME)!
We also saw where the women and men live in Gagon, the homeless shelter system. What we observed were beautifully created and maintained living areas which reflect and breathe the notion that this is indeed a HOME and not a HOMELESS shelter at all. People stay at these homes for various periods of time as needed and receive an array of services and support including clothing, food, shelter, the dignity of being part of a group, counseling, detoxification programming, and whatever else is needed. The residents know that they always have a home here, helping to maintain it themselves as they regain their own dignity.
The work of the Kadima Youth Centers is extensive as well in their work with all those at risk, as explained on the website (cited above) in these words:
"In distressed neighborhoods all over the country, there are thousands of children and teenagers at risk. Many of them come from families of new immigrants, and their parents are unable, for various reasons, to provide them with basic needs, such as: nutritious meals, monitoring and assistance with their homework, enhancement of values, etc
These children become part of the dangerous margins of our society: few of them will graduate from high school, fewer will join the army, and they are less likely to find a profession and on the other hand, are more likely to deteriorate to criminality and drugs.
[Our goal is] to promote and nurture children and teenagers at risk from disadvantaged families, prevent their dropping out of school, and ensure their integration in the future into the normative society and not into its dangerous margins."
This wonderful place is a haven for used up prostitutes, homeless individuals, youth without a place to go, immigrants of questionable status, and so many others. Even the use of prisoners (non-violent) who are doing their community service here is yet another remarkable part of the entirety of the amazing work done here by volunteers and only four paid employees. The chairman of this wonderful organization is Gilaad Harish. As with the other efforts in this series, this was begun by private initiatives and private money, only receiving state support later once a proven track record was established. This place made me proud to see the best of Israel and Israelis in addressing some of the most pressing internal problems in its society that so many others may not even think of when considering Israel.
We are taught by our prophets and in our Torah that our poor and vulnerable ARE our responsibility. The amazing people we met at LaSova are taking these words to heart and living them. We can join their work as we can with all of the organizations here. Educate everyone you can about these wonderful places and consider adding them to your Tzedakah recipients in your schools and communities.