ELKAN’S VIEW 24th JUNE 2015
Israel is undoubtedly a very prosperous country but the division between the haves and the have-nots can at times be frighteningly large. Statistics reveal that a quarter of Israel’s citizens are living below the poverty line and among them are 850,000 hungry children. At the same time, literally hundreds of thousands of tonnes of perfectly good nutritious food are needlessly destroyed each year.
In 2000 this led Joseph Gitler, an American immigrant, to establish what is now called Leket Israel – Leket is a term used in the Torah requiring farmers to leave a certain amount of food for the poor.
Leeket is now the largest supplier of food free of charge to over 180 nonprofit organisation serving over 140,000 people on a weekly basis. In addition volunteers prepare up to 8000 sandwiches every day to give underprivileged children – sometimes to take home to their siblings – in over 30 cities.
There are about 55,000 volunteers working for Leket all over Israel. The organisation itself has some farms, the land of which has either been gifted to the charity or is available on very favourable rates. A huge amount of food is grown there, and much of the harvesting is done by volunteers, who also rescue 60,000 meals a month from over 250 food establishments.
I am proud to be one of the Netanya volunteers, and my “partners” have ranged from someone who claims to have pushed me in my pram in Preston, to a Canadian Rabbi, and to the charming Irish doctor who is the coordinator of our group.
We collect from four restaurants in the shopping mall at Ir Yamim in South Netanya, receiving the food that is left over when they close at 10 PM. We then go to a baker’s shop where we often receive five or six large black bags full of perfectly good loaves, burekas, cakes and biscuits. We then leave these in a distribution centre in the middle of Netanya and by the next morning they have all been distributed.
The fact that Israel needs this organisation is a tragedy. The fact that so many volunteers work for it, is one of the great aspects of Israeli society.