Keeping Passover Amid a Modern PlaguePublished on: 10.5.2020
ICEJ meets mounting needs as Israel is hit by Corona
By: David Parsons
As the Coronavirus threat spread around the world in late February, it quickly became clear that the strict measures which governments were taking to stop the pandemic would be impacting the ICEJ’s work in Israel just as the Passover season approached when we are normally quite busy with numerous holiday assistance projects. Despite having to work from home, our staff in Israel rose to the challenge of meeting the needs of thousands of Israeli families even as the Corona crisis brought the nation’s economy to a standstill. Thanks to the faithful and generous support of Christians worldwide, the ICEJ was able to help even more Jewish families than usual over the Passover season.
Viral Crisis Peaks at Passover
This was indeed a most difficult Passover in Israel, as life and work were totally disrupted by the Corona health crisis. The elderly were told not to leave their homes for their own safety. Incoming flights were banned and tourism flatlined. All non-essential businesses were closed. Unemployment in Israel suddenly jumped to over 25 percent. As Passover neared, the social needs across the country only multiplied. In Ashdod alone, over half the families applied to city social workers for Passover assistance. With dozens of urgent requests for help flooding into our offices from across Israel, our staff rose to the occasion, Christians from around the world responded to the need, and we were able to help thousands of Holocaust survivors, other elderly citizens, new immigrants, needy families and many others all around Israel desperately in need of assistance this Passover season. It turned into a special moment when Christians showed their care and concern for our Israeli friends right when they needed us the most! No doubt, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. (Romans 8:28) “When the Coronavirus began spreading in Israel, it made our work much more difficult, but it did not stop the mandate of the Christian Embassy to comfort the people of Israel. Rather, it provided a unique and timely opportunity to even expand our ministry to meet critical needs and help many more families as Passover approached”, said ICEJ AID director Nicole Yoder. Here is a sampling of what we were able to accomplish together to make the Passover season brighter for thousands of individuals and families under added distress due to the Corona crisis. As you can see, we provided timely aid to more people at Passover than ever before, including Holocaust survivors, other elderly Israelis, new immigrants and children, while also helping emergency relief teams and community workers in need of special medical equipment to stay on the job.
Care for Elderly and Holocaust Survivors
The ICEJ team at our Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors were designated the primary caregivers for the 70 residents confined to their apartments due to the Corona crisis. This included delivering meals, giving them medical checkups, doing handiwork around their homes, and paying daily visits to break their sense of isolation. The Christian volunteers under the direction of veteran ICEJ staffers Yudit and Will Setz also helped pack and deliver meals to hundreds of other Holocaust survivors and senior citizens all around Haifa. [See the accompanying story on the Haifa Home for a more in-depth report.] In Jerusalem, some 12 members of the ICEJ staff were permitted to leave their homes to assist the elderly and other vulnerable peoples required to stay in their apartments. Many volunteered with Hineni, a Christian-supported Jerusalem soup kitchen, where they helped pack and deliver some two thousand hot meals to elderly residents of the city over several weeks, as well as 650 Passover food and gift packages. The ICEJ Homecare team also cared for a number of elderly and disabled Russian Jewish immigrants, buying them groceries and medicines, delivering Passover packets, and much more. (See the accompanying story on ICEJ Homecare.)
The ICEJ began its annual Passover holiday distributions in early March by delivering Pessach packages for dozens of needy families in Netanya. The gift baskets included food vouchers for the holiday season, along with kitchenware, pans and towels. This was a normal activity for ICEJ AID at this time of year, but soon the Passover needs were multiplying and nothing remained normal. Despite the stay-at-home orders, the ICEJ also funded and helped with the distribution of Passover gift boxes, including food and hygienic products, as well as daily meals to over four hundred elderly and needy Soviet Jewish immigrants, including many Holocaust survivors, who live in the Jerusalem suburbs of Pisgat Ze’ev and Maale Adumim. Meantime, we normally sponsor community Passover seders for hundreds of newly-arrived Jewish immigrants, but since large gatherings were not allowed, the ICEJ provided holiday assistance to more individual immigrant families this year. This included 269 Ethiopian newcomers who were celebrating their first Passover in the Land of Israel. We also assisted these families with extra absorption assistance while they were in a mandated two-week quarantine upon entering the country. Elsewhere, we worked with the Jewish Agency to assist 50 other newly-arrived families from other countries who made the trip to Israel despite the Corona threat and went straight into quarantine. This extra absorption aid included vouchers to buy food and other basics as they start a new life in Israel under difficult circumstances. In addition, ICEJ funds made it possible for the Jewish Agency to run holiday day camps for children of new immigrant families in quarantine. This project included providing games, crafts and toys for the kids to play at home or in small supervised groups. Finally, the ICEJ furnished games, art supplies and help with online learning for 95 at-risk youths in a special children’s home during the Passover season.
For families living in southern Israel under the constant threat of rockets from Gaza, life became even harder due to the threat of COVID-19. The ICEJ provided local medical and emergency teams there with sterile gloves, filtration masks, protective suits, disinfectants and other medical gear to allow them to continue making home visits to treat and care for children traumatized by years of rocket fire. They also arranged food and medicine to those in isolation or unable to shop, while also working with Magen David Adom to administer blood tests for Coronavirus. Meantime, first responders in the Gaza border area repurposed the special ATV firefighting equipment recently donated by the ICEJ to clean and sanitize public areas from the virus, including playgrounds, schools and parks.
Other Distressed Communities
As unemployment rose due to the Corona lockdowns, the ICEJ reached out to other communities in need all across Israel. The ICEJ responded to urgent requests for help on behalf of dozens of Bnei Menashe, Chinese and Hispanic Jewish families who arrived in Israel within the past year or so and were struggling due to job layoffs and other economic fallout from the Corona crisis. We were able to provide them with grants and food vouchers to assist the newly unemployed and those in dire need before the Passover holiday. The ICEJ also helped sponsor a brand new emergency Hotline for families with disabled and autistic children, which proved very timely and effective, especially as anxiety among children and domestic violence began rising across Israel, as elsewhere. With guidance and training from professionals, phone counselors began taking 50 to 100 calls per day, in both Hebrew and Arabic, to deal with cases of fear and emotional trauma among special-needs children associated with the Coronavirus. Many in Israel’s Arab and Bedouin communities were late in learning about the dangers posed by COVID-19, and when public schools were suddenly closed and many breadwinners in these communities were suspended from their jobs, many families were greatly impacted. In response, the ICEJ provided 100 Arab and Bedouin families with hygiene supplies and culturally sensitive explanatory materials on how to protect your person and home against the virus, how to practice social distancing, and other helpful information. Lastly, Israel’s Christian Arab community also has been impacted by the Corona threat, including many workers who have lost their jobs. In the mixed Christian/Muslim town of Eilaboun, in the Galilee, the ICEJ donated computers to 36 families so that their children could access distance learning. Other families with small children also received games and toys for the little ones to relieve stress in the home during the long school closures.
The Needs Continue
We are most grateful that Christians around the globe responded so quickly and generously over recent weeks, enabling the ICEJ to meet more needs than ever over the Passover season. But the Corona health crisis is not over yet, and the needs created by this pandemic will continue to
mount – both in Israel and in many other nations. We are just thankful that so many Christians are so dedicated to helping Israel, even though they have urgent needs in their own families, communities, and nations. May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to comfort Israel in her time of need.
Please give to our ‘Israel in Crisis’ fund to help us carry out more urgent aid projects in the days ahead! Donate today at icej.org/crisis