Last week, my eight year old daughter came home from school with all of her Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) paintings. As we looked over the pictures she explained to me each drawing’s significance.
"This picture is of a shofar," she said. "A shofar is a ram’s horn that we blow on Rosh Hashana, to wake up our heart and soul to repentance." I sat at the table looking at her with a big smile and she continued to go through her school work. "These are apples being dipped in honey to represent a sweet new year," my precious child clarified, which led her to the next question. "What special food are you making for the holiday, Mommy?"
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As I read off my holiday menu full of all of my children’s favorite foods and saw my sweetest daughter’s smile and excitement, I couldn’t help but think about Melina, a single mother of four whose children silently pray for chicken or meat all year round, with tears in their eyes. When I met Melina last week I sadly learned that instead of being a time of joy, in her home the holiday is a time of stress and sadness.
Melina immigrated to Israel from Russia at a young age and was always grateful to God for bringing her home. "In Russia we couldn’t practice our Jewish faith openly and with true freedom, so when we came to Israel it felt like redemption," she so told me, while nostalgically remembering her prophetic freedom flight to Israel.
Melina remembers her family Shabbat and holidays being full of joy, thanksgiving and worship and those are exactly the memories that she desperately wants to pass on to her children. "I yearn for the phrase 'Happy Holidays' to come true in my home, but when we do not have special food to eat or holiday clothing to wear, the holidays bring more sadness than joy."
Melina is in the heart breaking situation of so many single mothers in Israel. She is working hard – sometimes even double shifts and skipping entire nights of sleep - for the meager minimum wage salary of under $6 an hour.
No matter how much Melina works, she does not have money to cover all of her bills. It is not rare to for Melina to have her electricity or water shut off, and its the worry and sadness within her children that upsets Melina the most. "My children used to beg me for chicken and meat and I couldn’t say no to them, so I would buy their favorite foods with the last money I had." With red cheeks and tears rolling down her face, Melina’s shaking voice continued. "Eventually they realized that the months I would buy chicken or meat, our electricity would be turned off. For the past year, they have stopped even asking me for their favorite foods. This means that they have fallen into despair, and it breaks my heart."
Melina lives in a two-room apartment. She gave one room to the girls and the other room to the boys, and she is left to sleep in the tiny living room on a broken couch. They have one two door closet that they all share, and most of the clothing sits folded in bags on the floor. The only piece of furniture in their small apartment is a second hand folding table. "I’m doing everything in my power to provide my children with a stable and good life, but I feel like I’m failing," Melina cried, as I rubbed her back and offered her words of encouragement.
"Mommy, what are you thinking about," my daughter asked, as she sat at the table with a smile, surrounded by her holiday pictures and writing out a wish list of the special cakes and candy she wants for the holiday. "I’m thinking of how important it is to appreciate what God has given us and to help others in every way we can; especially during the holiday season," I told my precious child.
This Jewish New Year is very special to me. I am thanking God for granting me another blessed year on this earth full of health, family, and security.
I am also entering the holiday with a joyous heart knowing that because of The Fellowship and our Jewish and Christian friends around the world, this Rosh Hashana is bringing Melina and thousands of other poor single mothers a glimpse of hope and a ray of happiness.
Melina, along with over 10,000 poor single mothers in Israel, are receiving a Fellowship food card, so that they can go shopping in dignity, pick out their family’s favorite food, and provide a happy and special holiday meal as they deserve.
This year, because of Fellowship friends the Jewish New Year will be a symbol of hope instead of despair and a time of happiness instead of sadness.
Praise God, for the first time in over a year Melina’s children will enjoy a meal of meat and chicken without having to worry about their electricity getting turned off.
We all have a lot to be grateful for. Here in Israel, we are grateful for you.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy New Year,
Yael Eckstein in the senior vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship).