Soup kitchens owned by Colel Chabad have been busy these past few days, with a constant line of some 300 senior citizens – with an average age of 85 – forming outside its Jerusalem location.
The clientele, mainly Holocaust survivors who come equipped with carts and baskets, help each other select products and then load them onto buses for the ride home.
Most of the senior citizens are from the former Soviet Union, survivors of World War II who are accustomed to doing without life's luxuries. They receive a pension of around $670 per month plus social security benefits.
'Loneliness is hardest part' (Photo: Noam Moscowitz)
"It's hard to live off of this," says 85-year old Anna, from Belarus. "During the war I lost nine family members in concentration camps, and now I live here alone and make due with my pension. After rent and other expenses I have NIS 160 ($47) left over for food."
Vina Burneska, a 75-year old woman who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine, recounted her tale. "I was seven years old when we ran away from the war. I remember walking long distances and being swollen from hunger," she said.
"In Israel things are good, but there is not enough money. After paying rent I have NIS 200 ($58) for food and it's difficult to get by."
Israel Lazerovitch, 88, told Ynet that his main hardship is with loneliness. "During the war I was in a concentration camp in Poland, where I was forced to work hard labor. I came to Israel with my wife, who has already passed away. It's hard to be alone, to cook alone, to be home with just four walls. But you get used to it," he said.
Rabbi Mendy Blau, coordinator for Colel Chabad services in Israel, says the network of soup kitchens has seen a rising number of clientele over the past few years.
"I've been in this business 17 years and it appears the need is growing, and needy people multiplying. I don't expect help from the state anymore. There are some countries where the state offers solutions, but on the matter of handing out food this state is nonexistent," he said.
Colel Chabad handed out around 2,000 food packages to Holocaust survivors throughout Israel on Sunday, a day before Passover eve. The organization also invited a number of senior citizens to its Seder.
"They want company," Blau explains. "These are lonely and solitary souls who live alone in their apartments. That's why it's very difficult for them to go places where they can meet other people."
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