Has a Plan in Place for Passover,
COVID or Not
By Hadassah Bay
As the world approaches Passover, the second during the COVID era, the staff and volunteers at Meir Panim are working overtime. Under the leadership of CEO Binyomin Ibenboim, they are pulling out all the stops to ensure that patrons will have their Passover needs taken care of.
“This year, we wanted to take extra care to help out our patrons, especially the seniors, so that they feel less isolated and lonely during this ongoing challenging period,” said Mimi Rozmaryn, Director of Global Development at Meir Panim.
“These days, it’s impossible to plan anything in advance, but we are prepared to pivot with the times and move forward with whatever strategy makes the most sense for the moment.”
As such, Mimi is hopeful that it will be possible to organize communal Seders as in years past in all four branches – Jerusalem, Dimona, Tiberias and Or Akiva. “These days, it’s impossible to plan anything in advance, but we are prepared to pivot with the times and move forward with whatever strategy makes the most sense for the moment,” she wisely observed. Accordingly, if it proves impossible to host a communal Seder, Meir Panim will do a repeat of last year, distributing to its needy families ready-made Seder meals, including all the Seder-plate elements, in addition to shopping cards and holiday baskets with shelf-stable, kosher-for-Passover pantry basics.
Since the COVID-19 crisis erupted almost a year ago, Meir Panim has been forced to come up with creative solutions. “Previously, our operations had been based on serving ready-made cooked meals that had been rescued from event halls and hotels that were happy to send us their surplus at the end of the day. Today, with hotels and establishments closed, we’ve had to rethink our manner of operation and start a whole new enterprise of cooking. That means outfitting kitchens, purchas ing raw materials and hiring cooks, without missing a beat – or a day’s worth of meals – for people who depend on it,” she explained.
With the social distancing rules in place, followed by successive lockdowns, Meir Panim also had to shutter its Restaurant-Style Soup Kitchens and expand pick-up services, as well as its Meals-on-Wheels delivery service.
Meir Panim’s patrons come from across the spectrum of Israeli society. In addition to the elderly, who can’t make ends meet on their pensions, Meir Panim caters to single parent families, people on disability allowances, as well as the working poor.
“Many of our new patrons were breadwinners who had been getting by, living from paycheck to paycheck.”
Since COVID, however, Meir Panim’s patrons swelled to triple the original number. “Many of our new patrons were breadwinners who had been getting by, living from paycheck to paycheck. However, being out of work after the first or second lockdown destroyed their safety net,” explains Mimi.
“We are there so that they don’t have to decide between buying groceries and paying the rent.” Mimi Rozmaryn, originally from Manhattan, recalls how impressed she was on her first visit to Meir Panim (so much so that she decided to apply for a job there!) “As a teen, I used to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. When I came to the Meir Panim branch in Jerusalem, I was shocked to see that after finishing their meal, people would come to the counter with their personal plastic containers and fill them up to take home. That could never have happened in Manhattan, but at Meir Panim it was a matter of course. Today too, we make sure that our portions are generous enough to suffice for more than one meal.”
While feeding the hungry comes first, the organization has widened its view to the next generation in an effort to break the cycle of poverty. To this end, Meir Panim has initiated professional social programs — in the Gaza border town of Sderot and in the development town of Dimona —to rehabilitate atrisk youth, provide tools for a better future and promote social mobility.
“We have a lot of programs in the pipeline, but we’re limited by budgeting constraints. The more help we get, the more we’ll be able to do,” Mimi reflected.
Donations can be made at www.mpdonate.org
through a toll-free number at (877) 736-6283, or
by mail to American Friends of Meir Panim at
88 Walton Street, Suite B1, Brooklyn, New York,
11206-4479. All donations made in the US are
tax-deductible under EIN# 20-1582478.