“. . . Do not forget the congregation of your poor forever.” (Psalms 74:19)
As the High Holiday season nears, Colel Chabad, the oldest and longest continuously-running charity in Israel, is holding a special drive to help the needy in Israel celebrate this year.
Established in 1788 by the famed Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, Colel Chabad has dedicated itself to helping the most destitute residents of Israel in a manner that preserves and enhances their dignity, and has been doing so for over 220 years.
Each year, as the holiday season arrives in the early autumn, Colel Chabad distributes tens of thousands of gift baskets across the country. These gift baskets, which value in the millions of shekels, give a sense of belonging to Israel’s needy, and help to alleviate the high costs of food around the holidays, which can be debilitating for poor families. In previous years, distributions have exceeded 22,000 baskets.
In addition, the organization has an established, international ‘pushka’ program, handing out free charity collection cans to those who are willing to take them. Colel Chabad pushkas are set up in homes, businesses, stores, and gas stations around the country and across the world. This form of crowdfunding has been in practice long before the internet existed, and it is one of the many ways that the organization has raised funds for the poor.
Colel Chabad boasts a wide variety of programs that help the poor in Israel. Among them is the largest and most active network of soup kitchens in Israel, providing over one million meals annually from its eighteen locations. Many of these soup kitchens work closely with nearby IDF bases, which provide the kitchens with surplus food. This food is used to complement the meals that the soup kitchens provide for the poor.
New diners are always encouraged to come to the kitchens, and no questions are asked. Social workers are on hand to offer help upon request. If they notice that a person has become a ‘regular’ at the kitchen, the social worker will then asses how best to help the person moving forward. Many of the patrons are Holocaust survivors who come as much out of need for a friendly smile as they do for a warm meal.
Another one of Colel Chabad’s programs is their Widow-and-Orphan program, with which the organization provides for more than 293 widows and 620 orphans annually. The organization provides care on a holistic basis, giving not only financial assistance but help in other areas as well to both mothers and children. It offers help in finding solutions to educational problems the children may have and also helps mothers find and hold down jobs, and cope with being single parents.
Among the many services the program offers are providing the family with cash grants; regular food deliveries; holiday clothing vouchers; interest-free loans; career counseling and retraining; Big Brother/Sister; psychological support; educational evaluations; youth clubs; music lessons; and driving lessons when a license is needed for employment.
There is almost no end to the services provided by the organization. Colel Chabad has the only in- and-outpatient medical center for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). The organization also pays for weddings for those who cannot afford them, and they have day-care centers for over 400 children ranging from infants to toddlers, in six locations around the country.
Colel Chabad has set up a free loan fund for widows, orphans, newlyweds and new immigrants who may be struggling financially. They have therapeutic retreats for widows as well as seasonal programs for some of the more needy people that they work with, offering them some respite from their day-to-day struggles. In the winter, the organization has a ‘Home Heating Program’ which prevent months of suffering in the cold by helping those who cannot afford to heat their homes.
“We have a wide-ranging operation, and it includes many different fields and volunteers in each of these fields,” said Rabbi Mendy Blau, Director of Colel Chabad in Israel. “We do all this in order to better help families pull themselves out of the current troubles and disasters that have befallen them.”