July 17, 2008
Israel’s Hazon Yeshaya means meal in many languages
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Hazon Yeshaya was founded 12 years ago, but in order to fully understand Israel's unwavering passion for what he does, one must look back half a century. Born in Egypt and forced to flee with his family in 1958 after the Sinai Campaign, he ended up in Paris as a 10-year-old refugee with nothing but the clothes on his back and jobless parents.
"I couldn't work, and my parents couldn't find jobs so we survived by finding soup kitchens for three and a half long, miserable years," he said. "I had holes in my shoes, but that wasn't the end of the world. The end of the world was not being able to eat every day, and we were lucky to find a way to do that. If it hadn't been for the soup kitchens, we would not have survived."
After four years in France, the Israel family eventually made it to the United States.
"We got to the land of opportunity, and I spent the rest of my youth in New York. Praise God, I did well in business, and after working for 35 years as an accountant, I decided to fulfill my dream and come to Israel," he explained quickly, his speech peppered with a slight New York accent.
One afternoon in Jerusalem just after he made aliyah, a young woman named Ronit asked for help crossing the street.
"She was suffering from MS, and after I helped her get to her apartment and saw where she was living -- without electricity, in total squalor -- I asked her what she has to eat," he said. "She said she got money from the government but had to spend most of it on medicine, so she was lucky to eat one yogurt in a day."
Across the hall from Ronit, a family of six was crammed into a tiny room. In order to make space during the day, they were forced to lean the one mattress they shared against a wall. Next to them, an elderly woman was also living in deplorable conditions.
"I decided to rent a little store in the neighborhood and feed these people. At first I had 17 people who would come and eat every day, and from there it started growing."
Today, Hazon Yeshaya is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Israel and the only one open 365 days a year.
"My success in this holy work, to truly target the worst cases and help the future of this country by making sure children can focus on their education and not the rumbling of their stomachs, is thanks to the Almighty," Israel said. "I do it because I love it, and because I know what it's like to be hungry."