With the arrival of winter, many Israelis are struggling to stay warm and healthy. Some have a heater but cannot afford the electrical expense, while others have no heaters at all. The situation can be life-threatening, as people are known to have frozen to death, especially the elderly and children, during harsh Israeli winters.
“Israel’s northern city of Safed not only has particularly blistery winters due to its high elevation, it also has a disproportionate amount of poor people,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Lipsker, administrator of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running charity organization, to Breaking Israel News. “Colel Chabad runs a variety of programs in Safed to help all those in need, including doing what we can to ensure that no one suffers from cold during the winter months.”
Though Safed is referred to as one of Judaism’s four holiest cities, it can be a challenge to survive there. As most of its economy is generated through tourism, it is difficult to make a living. “The irony is that people move to Safed because it is less expensive than many other Israeli cities,” said Rabbi Lipsker. “On the other hand, it is also very difficult to support a family.”
Safed has a 14.1 percent unemployment rate, almost twice the national average. Yet due to its growing Orthodox Jewish population, its growth is twice the national average. More than a quarter of the residents are clients of social services, compared with a national average of 20.5 percent. One-third of its residents suffer financial difficulties.
Colel Chabad’s winter aid program helps the needy in several ways. First, the organization distributes heaters, warm blankets, new coats and warm children’s clothing. Secondly, Colel Chabad has an interest-free loan program enabling people who do not have money to pay their electric bills to borrow funds. But this special program has a generous twist.
“Colel Chabad strives to both provide immediate help to the needy as well as education and training to guide people out of poverty,” continued Rabbi Lipsker. “Generally, when we loan people money, there is a strict pay-back plan. However, when it comes to paying back loans for people who borrow to stay warm, we are more lenient. We simply cannot allow people to choose between eating and heating.”
Colel Chabad earmarks a significant amount of their charitable donations to their winter aid fund. “As most Israeli homes are built from stone and cement, including the floors, they are extremely bone-chilling in the winter and many have no heat at all,” noted Rabbi Lipsker. “This can make the winter unbearable, especially for the elderly and young children.”
Rabbi Lipsker also points out that when children are chronically sick from the cold, they miss school, falling behind in their studies, and adults fortunate enough to have a job often miss work, putting the welfare of the entire family at risk.
To help impoverished Israelis stay warm this winter, please visit here.
This article was written in cooperation with Colel Chabad.