A network of soup kitchens in the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon won more than $28,000 in an online vote-based competition sponsored by Bank Leumi.

Chai Ashkelon, a project of the city’s Chabad-Lubavitch center and an affiliate of the Colel Chabad social-service organization, placed second in the competition and joined the top-50 non-profits at a check-presentation ceremony at Bank Leumi’s central offices in Tel Aviv. All told, the “A Million Good Reasons” competition – whose entrants posted YouTube videos in their solicitations of votes – distributed 1 million shekels. Chai Ashkleon won 100,000 shekels.

According to Chai Ashkelon director Rabbi Menachem Lieberman, the organization will use the money to upgrade its central kitchen, known as Eshel Ashkelon. Run by Rabbi Chaim Atias, its 260 daily clients include members of the city’s home-based elderly and indigent population.

“We are going to buy a combination steamer oven that makes food moist and more-easily digested,” said Lieberman. “We will be able to provide healthier, more wholesome meals to the elderly and infirm.”

Chana Borenstein, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in the city, heard about the competition and thought it would be a good opportunity to generate publicity for the soup kitchens. With 7,000 people in Ashkelon living below the poverty line, she said, it was worth a shot.

“I thought we had a chance,” said Borenstein, noting that similar competition in the United States had netted millions of dollars in grant money for Chabad-Lubavitch run organizations. “But we didn’t have money to invest in a two-minute promotional video.”

Borenstein thought at first of using footage from a recent television news report on Chai Ashkelon, but when the clips didn’t arrive, she and Lieberman decided to piece together a slide show of live-action photographs of the kitchen at work.

After entering, staff members sent out daily reminders to vote to addresses on several e-mail lists. The mayor and local high school students also signed on to the effort when no other Ashkelon organization entered the competition.

Rabbi Menachem Lieberman addresses the awards ceremony at Bank Leumi’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Menachem Lieberman addresses the awards ceremony at Bank Leumi’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

According to Bank Leumi, more than 385,000 people visited the competition’s website, together posting more than 2 million votes.

At Wednesday’s award ceremony, which was attended by Google Israel CEO Meir Brand and Bank Leumi CEO Galia Mor, Lieberman asserted that the competition highlighted the ability of the Internet to achieve a public good.

“When we use technology to network everybody to do a good deed, to give charity, we are advancing as a society,” he said.

Reached after the ceremony, Borenstein said that the contest raised the profile of Chai Ashkelon.

“We now have the tools to reach more people and further help the community,” she said. “We are so grateful for the love and unity we felt from around the world.”