As Holocaust survivors and their supporters negotiate an increase in the Israeli government's relief package, Colel Chabad continues to expand its operations, many of which directly benefit the survivor community.

A new Colel Chabad soup kitchen, for instance, just opened in the Canaan neighborhood of Safed, where most of its clients are Holocaust survivors who find it difficult to make ends meet.

Biyanka, a native of Poland, receives food from Colel Chabad. She spent most of World War II hiding from the Nazis in the care of a Polish family, who employed her and her sister as maids. According to Rivka Chanya, who oversees daily operations for Colel Chabad's two soup kitchens in Safed, Biyanka cries whenever she thinks of what she went through and the hunger she grew accustomed to.

"She once looked at the meat that I brought and said she couldn't eat it," says Chanya, recalling one poignant moment. "It reminded her of the time that she suffered" from having so little to eat.

But Colel Chabad's work is not just with the survivor set.

Safed, which has an average income 30 percent below the national average, has double the Israeli average of citizens who are handicapped and on welfare. Colel Chabad, therefore, administrates a Meals on Wheels program that delivers 250 warm meals – consisting of a main dish, hot soup and a plate of freshly cut salad – to the city's homebound. The soup kitchen in the center of the old city serves 70 meals to the infirm and elderly daily. In addition, the new soup kitchen serves 60 people daily with food donated by Tzipi Cohen, the owner of a local wedding hall.

"To me this whole endeavor is very fulfilling," says Ayalah Amram, who volunteers a few hours once a week for the Meals on Wheels program. "Some of these individuals have lost their entire families in the Holocaust, their parents and children. I feel that it is my duty to help them. We need to be there for them."

In addition to its relief efforts for the elderly and infirm, Colel Chabad's food bank delivers 500 sandwiches for schoolchildren each day, as well as a monthly food package for poor families that contains non-perishables, vegetables, fish and chicken.

"We deliver the sandwiches to ten schools in the morning, and they discreetly bring them to those children that did not arrive with food from home," relates Zev Crombi, director of Colel Chabad in the North of Israel. "The sandwiches are prepared by volunteer students of these schools. They come the night before and prepare the sandwiches."

Helping the Survivors

They may come primarily for the food, but Colel Chabad’s soup kitchens are also places for seniors to catch up with friends.
They may come primarily for the food, but Colel Chabad’s soup kitchens are also places for seniors to catch up with friends.
But it's perhaps Colel Chabad's work with Holocaust survivors that has gotten the most attention of late. A full 39 percent, or 237,000, of all living Holocaust survivors call Israel their home, making the tiny country the address of most of the Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Of even more concern, while 25 percent of those under 75 require daily assistance with meals, 52 percent of all Holocaust survivors over 80 require help, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

And although a total of 44,300 survivors receive monetary assistance from the Israeli government, for most people the funds don't even come close to covering their expenses. They call a recent aid package proposed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ridiculous, considering that it amounts to an increase of slightly more than $20 a month.

Consequently, Colel Chabad has had to fill part of the gap through free and reduced-cost meal distributions. Its soup kitchens in Jerusalem, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Safed and Lod prepare 2,000 meals each day, of which 30 percent are served or delivered to known Holocaust survivors.

Natan Gerson, who now lives in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, spent the war years in Russia and came to Israel in 1948. Widowed 12 years ago, Gerson, 88, has the comfort of a large family consisting of two children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He receives a pension as a former Israel Police employee, but he also needs meals two or three times a week from Colel Chabad.

According to officials, Colel Chabad is in the midst of expanding its existing food preparation and delivery infrastructure in order to provide meals to every needy Holocaust survivor living in Israel through 2020. It's already identified more clients, but is currently waiting for the necessary funds from donations and grants to ensure that no one goes hungry.