Cease Fire Does Not Mean Cease Food
From the Eizer L'Shabbos website:
FOOD DELIVERIES UNDER FIRE
An Interview with Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg, director of Eizer L'Shabbos, Tzefas By Rabbi Dovid Sears
Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg and his family were oleh to Tzefas ten years ago from Borough Park, where they soon founded Eizer L'Shabbos, inspired by the example of Tomchei Shabbos in Brooklyn. The following interview tells the story of what Eizer L'Shabbos has been doing since the outbreak of the Lebanon War.
Question: How has the war affected the scope of your activities as director of Eizer L'Shabbos?
Answer: Normally we deliver food packages and supply vouchers to between 50-80 families every Shabbos in Tzefas, and to approximately 300 families before YomTov. However, today we are supplying thousands of people, many of whom we have never met before: Ashkenazim, Sefardim, Chassidim, Litvaks, Baalei Teshuvah and Geirim, and recently non-religious Jews who were living in shelters with almost no food. A week ago, I walked into one shelter in a building of chilonim, and began distributing food packages. One man said, "A Jew that looks like you is bringing food to a Jew who looks like me? I never would have believed this if it didn't happen to me!" These people had no where to turn. Normally, we are focused on helping Shomer Shabbos families, many of whom are in desperate straits. But at a time like this, we feel that we must help every Jew.
Question: Did you remain in Tzefas throughout the weeks of missile attacks?
Answer: Tzefas was first attacked on Shiva Asar b'Tammuz, on Thursday afternoon. We left for Elad, which is near Bnei Brak, the next morning, planning to return after Shabbos. We never expected the bombardment to continue for so long. When I came back on Sunday, I saw that Maor Chaim, the shikun where we live, was eerily quiet. More than half of my neighbors had left, and others were waiting at bus stops with their suitcases in order to leave the city. I'm told that eventually about 80% fled, but still leaving hundreds of families who had nowhere else to go. Then the phone calls started coming in, some from people stranded in Tzefas without food, others from families of refugees who were penniless. My son Noson is a Hatzolah worker in Tzefas who stayed behind, and he saw things that hecouldn't repeat to me, he was so upset. He also has a grocery store, and basically gave away his entire stock on credit. Nobody had any money! Even those withbank accounts couldn't access their money, because everything was closed.That's when I decided to return to Tzefas in order to expand the scope of my work. I started by distributing free food vouchers. But many people were afraid to leave their homes. So my son and I organized food deliveries. Representatives from various parts of town also started coming to supply their neighbors. This continued even when we were under fire, which was a terrifying experience.
Question: How were you able to get enough food and other supplies into Tzefas, when missiles were ravaging the north every day?
Answer: It was a very big problem. Many people risked their lives to do this, and continue to do so. I have a friend, Mr. Kuperman, who runs a butcher shop in Tiveria. His employees were afraid to drive to Tzefas. So he personally delivered the meat to us while the missiles flew over his head! People are very brave. The trucks are still running, boruch Hashem, and at least for now we are continuing to get most of the supplies we need.
Question: Are you serving only Tzefas?
Answer: We also have supplied food vouchers to outlying communities such as Birya and Canaan, which was very badly hit because of the nearby army base. I went into a big grocery store there called "Super Chabad," and saw that the place was full of food, but it was totally empty. "Are people buying?" I asked the manager. "They're afraid to come," he said, "and besides, they have no money." So I started distributing vouchers. At first about 40 people came out of the shelters to get food. Then the number increased to 200 families -- which means over a thousand people. One lady told me, "We felt like nobody cared about us until you came!"
Question: What does Tzefas look like these days?
Answer: I'm sad to say this, but the damage is very great. Missiles stuck almost every street in the Old City, and recently they have been directed toward Maor Chaim and the other tall residential buildings below the Beis HaChaim, where the Arizal and other tzaddikim are buried. The shopping areas are all closed. There is no work, no income. These three weeks after Tisha b'Av are the peak season for tourism in Tzefas, when many people make their income for most of the year. But there are no tourists this summer. What will these people do to survive? The area around the hospital was also intensively bombed. Boruch Hashem, they all missed the hospital, but that neighborhood took a heavy toll. Meron was also devastated. There were forest fires that burned for days. But the tziyun of Reb Shimon was untouched. I haven't seen the village yet. Hizbulla wanted to hit the army base on the mountain.
Question: What about the refugee problem?
Answer: Rav Elazar Kenig of Kiryat Breslev has spoken to me about this a number of times. He hears from people day and night, and although much chesed has been shown to them in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak and elsewhere, thousands of people have been driven from their homes and are penniless. It is not easy for families with children to stay with friends and family members for weeks at a stretch. For the most part, their hosts are also poor and don't have much room for guests. So many refugees have come back - to be welcomed by more missiles. Eizer L'Shabbos actually paid car services to help some of these people escape at night, when things usually quiet down. Although resources are limited, we are trying to help the refugees in any way we can.
Question: What does it cost to run Eizer L'Shabbos these days? How are you managing?
Answer: We spent $20,000 on food packages and vouchers the first week of the war, and then increased to between $40,000-50,000 per week. Many people helped us meet these expenses, especially my father, Rabbi Avraham Yosef Rosenberg of Borough Park, and Rabbi Zvi Davis of Flatbush, who helped raise money in America; we can't thank them enough. Rabbi Simcha Murvis, Rav of Sdei Ilan, and his Eishes Chayil, Elisheva Murvis, sponsored the Eizer L'Shabbos Emergency Hot Meals Project to the tune of 1200 meals Erev Shabbos and an additional 800 meals once or twice a week. And they spent extra money so thatwe could provide the best quality meals, too! We also must thank Mr. Menachem Teitelbaum of Mishnas Yaakov, who joined forces with Eizer L'Shabbos to bring in truckloads of staple foods, which we included in our packages. Standard Eizer L'Shabbos packages also include frozen foods and other supplies, all in all worth around $100 a piece. Plus many friends made appeals in shuls, put out Eizer L'Shabbos flyers and envelopes, and brought them to bungalow colonies. These efforts have been a true lifeline for thousands of people badly in need.
Question: Can you give us some good news?
Answer: Dovid HaMelech says, "Batzar harchavtah li . . . Even when I was in narrow straits, you made them wide for me!" We have seen many, many harchavos inTzefas, b'chasdei Hashem. Yesterday a missile came flying through the narrow space my apartment building in Maor Chaim and the next one, hitting a third building that was empty. The explosion was tremendous - but miraculously no one was hurt. In Kfar Canaan, one father left the front room of his dirah moments beforea missile struck. It demolished the room, but the man was saved from certain death. On the first Friday night of the war, the olam had just left the Tchortkover Beis Medrash in Tzefas when a missile stuck the house of the Attiah family next door. The Attiahs, an older couple, had gone to one of their married children for Shabbos, and thus were not hurt. Part of the missile damaged the shul, but the place was empty. When I visited the site, I picked up a clock on the floor, which had stopped at 8:30 PM. If it had been a few minutes earlier, everyone would still have been in shul davenning Ma'ariv. One afternoon, two melamdim were walking to the Breslever Cheder on the path they always took, when a neighbor called them over to ask a question. Seconds later a missile struck exactly where they would have been if they had continued. There are probably hundreds of such stories. Nevertheless, people have been killed, many have been injured, and even more have been traumatized. One twelve-year-old boy, a very active, bold child, was near a missile when it hit the Old City. He wasn't hurt, but his mother says that at first he couldn't speak and cries all the time now. "Lo al ha'lechem levad yichyeh ha'adam . . . Man doesn't live by bread alone." We all have to daven and do as much tzedakah va'chesed as possible at a time like this. Who knows why this is happening? Maybe just to bring us closer together, so that we should help each other, like one big family -- which is what Klal Yisrael truly is. Thousands of dollars are needed to relieve the families affected by the weeks of war and destruction that has ravaged Tzefas and other northern cities. HaKodosh Boruch Hu will surely help -- but you can have the zechus of being His shaliach! Funds are needed IMMEDIATELY!
Donations can be sent to:
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204
UPDATE: I just spoke with Rabbi Rosenberg on the phone this evening and he said that funds would be needed now to help all of the refugees returning home during the cease fire. Rabbi Rosenberg wanted me to stress the point that the Eizer L'Shabbos will increase its efforts 100% to meet this demand.