In Israel, tikkun olam—repairing the world—is not just a way to help; it’s a way of life. And something relatively new there called “Tikkun Olam Tourism” is working to encourage those who visit there to make helping others a priority.
One more step in that direction was solidified last week when Colel Chabad opened an extensive new Pantry Packers facility in Jerusalem.
The 5,000-square-foot entity stores dried food basics such as rice and beans, which are included in the monthly baskets delivered by Colel Chabad to 5,000 of Israel’s neediest families, explains Rabbi Menachem Traxler, director of Pantry Packers.
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Colel Chabad is the largest and oldest organization in Israel tasked with providing food and social services for needy families, widows and orphans, Holocaust survivors, the elderly indigent and Russian immigrants.
What makes Pantry Packers unique is the concept of “Tikkun Olam Tourism,” which enables visitors to Israel to spend 90 minutes volunteering in a meaningful, hands-on way toward alleviating hunger among Israel’s poorest sector.
“Based on our testing experience, Pantry Packers is the second most important stop on a visit to Jerusalem after the Western Wall,” says Traxler. “The facility is open by appointment to tourists of all faiths and ages, and is ideally suited for synagogue and church groups, and extended families. Every bag of food staples contains a slip of paper with the name of the volunteer group that packed it so that the beneficiaries can know whom to thank in their hearts and in their prayers.”
Young tourists join in the mitzvah of helping the needy by volunteering their time.
The new facility was made possible via a gift from Daniel and Eugenia Fuchs—and their family—of Sao Paolo, Brazil, who attended the Oct. 11 grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with the executive board of the Federação Israelita do Estado de São Paulo.
“Our idea was to transform a donation into something tangibly physical,” says Daniel Fuchs. “Many tourists who come to Israel want to assist charities here. We’re offering them the opportunity to personally participate, and now it’s easier than ever for visitors to fulfill the mitzvah of helping the needy while they are in Israel."
Rabbi Sholom Duchman, executive director of Colel Chabad, explains how the idea came to fruition. “One of the ways we that we can save money is by buying in extra-bulk commodities and then repacking them into family-size packages. But obviously, for this, you need a lot of manpower, and the cost of it is very expensive.
“We therefore came up with a very simple idea,” he says—tap into the many tourists and people who come from around the world to visit Israel, and let them help. Men and women of all ages, and children as well, can participate in the packing and come away with the feeling that they have done some good.
“We want to help the country; we want to do something tangible,” says Duchman. “This is what you call tikkun olam. This is a connection to the world, and this makes the world a better place to live in.”
Israel’s newly installed Chief Rabbi David Lau affixed the mezuzah to the main entrance. Also present were directors of Israel’s leading tour operators, who have been instrumental in scheduling a mandatory stop at Pantry Packers for their overseas tour groups.
Israel's Chief Rabbi David Lau affixes the mezuzah to the main entrance of the new facility as philanthropist Daniel Fuchs, right, looks on.