by Meira Weber
March 18, 2020
Schools are closed. Offices, restaurants, factories, and workplaces are locked and shuttered, their workers holed up in their homes with bated breath, waiting for the newest update, the newest mandate, the newest rule we must follow to keep ourselves safe from disease. Rules change and policies tighten day by day – as of now, we are not allowed to leave our homes except to buy food and other necessities. Only those employed in vital industries or in offices that have fewer than ten workers (spread far apart from each other, of course) may go to work.
Whining wind blows eerily through empty streets. The sun shines on deserted playgrounds, where no child runs and plays. Synagogues are closing or limiting services to fewer than ten participants. Where normally would be noise and life, now everything is quiet. Everything is still.
The hustle and bustle of everyday life has retreated indoors, but now it has transformed into a festering chaos. The elderly are completely isolated and not allowed any visitors. Large families are sequestered in their homes. The children are going stir-crazy from the confined space while their parents are desperately trying to find some sort of balance between entertaining their kids, working from home, preparing meals while rationing food, and maintaining some semblance of sanity amidst it all. Anyone who can work from home is counted among the lucky – huge numbers of Israelis are being laid off as stores close, companies lose money and business grinds to nearly a complete standstill.
Cleaners, factory workers, chefs and cooks and servers, airline pilots and flight attendants, hotel employees and tour guides, shopkeepers and all manner of people in the service industry are now out of work. For many people who were already barely hovering at the poverty line (or well below it), the loss of their jobs is alarming and life-altering. Anxiety consumes them anew with every passing hour of unemployment. They have no idea where they will turn. How will they pay their rent? How will they feed their children? How long will they be confined to their homes in anxious uncertainty as their paltry savings slip away and they are unable to find new work?
In a few weeks, it will be Passover. Traditionally, Passover is a time when extended families convene from all corners of the country to participate in the Seder and celebrate the seven-day-long Holiday of Redemption. Massive efforts are expended to make sure that family members and friends can be together for the holiday, especially among lower-income families where everyone bears the financial load together. The prohibition against eating leavened bread products during Passover combined with the high cost of matzah means that it can get very expensive very quickly.
How will this virus affect the holiday this year? Thousands of Israelis wring their hands as they consider all it will cost – no family gatherings, no help with the cleaning and the cooking, and quite possibly not enough money to feed their own children. Distressed mothers sweat over lists of groceries they cannot afford, basic Passover essentials like matzah and wine and potatoes. But Passover itself is far from their greatest worry. For now, one primary question remains: How will I feed my family?
The Samaria Family Assistance program delivers food parcels for Passover every year to families in need, thanks to the generosity of you, our CFOIC Heartland donors. But this year, their needs have multiplied exponentially, as families who previously needed just a helping hand are now left in desperate straits, trying to feed their many children with no salary coming in. Already difficult circumstances have become unimaginably dire.
Heart of Benjamin is one of the programs whose government-mandated shutdown has hurt many families in Samaria. Of the special-needs children who regularly attend programming at Heart of Benjamin, many of them require around-the-clock care from a dedicated aide. Now that Heart of Benjamin’s regular programming and Passover camps have been cancelled, and all the special education schools have been closed, these children are home indefinitely, and an additional, complex layer of stress has settled squarely on the shoulders of their parents. These parents are looking after their “regular,” children while simultaneously caring for a child whose particular and difficult needs they are not equipped to meet. And, it goes without saying, that in circumstances such as these, they are not able to work from home, even if that were an option.
Struggling families have been plunged into crisis. The pioneers of Judea and Samaria have been crying out for help. And amidst all the hardship, God has heard our cry. You have donated in recent weeks for the Heart of Benjamin Passover camps and thanks to your generosity, even though the camps have been cancelled, we will use those funds to help the families with special needs children weather this crisis.
And you, our wonderful supporters of the Samaria Family Assistance Program, have enabled us to provide not only the regular Passover food for these families, but the extra assistance needed for these desperate times.
We are only discovering the beginning of the need, however, and we are anticipating greater need in the weeks and months ahead. We are receiving daily calls from communities, desperate for assistance, and we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. But it is not enough.
I realize that this is a time of crisis and need for you and for people all over this world. So I am not coming to you today to ask for your financial support, if you, too, are suffering from financial loss and the anxiety of uncertainty.
I do ask you to stand in solidarity and prayer with us, as we stand with you. We are all part of this great universe of humanity and with God’s help, we will all pull through.
However, if this current crisis has not hit you in a personal way and if you are, indeed, able to help us at this time, I hope you will consider helping the families with the greatest needs in the heart of Biblical Israel.