In the parable of "The Good Samaritan" Yeshua's emphatic rejoinder, "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37) compels us to look out for those wounded and bleeding on the side of our road. It is not an easy command to obey. Wounded people are messy and to bind up their wounds takes time. It is just so much easier to put our heads down and look the other way.

Leon and Nina Mazin are not the sort of leaders that ignore hurting people and cross over to the other side. So when Shavei Tsion moved to Hadar, the old downtown core of Haifa, they found that their road was littered with many wounded people, knocked down by poverty, sickness, addiction and mental illness. Leon admits that at first he was hesitant to try and address these needs. Prior to planting the Haifa congregation he had been Tents of Mercy's frontline humanitarian worker. Leon found the job of dealing with hurting and often difficult people to be extremely wearing. So Leon poured himself into the Russian language Oasis magazine and was content that the daughter congregation in Nazareth was meeting humanitarian needs through their soup kitchen.

Nina and Friends Take Action

But as Nina looked around Hadar she started to ask questions about the community. She met with locals and social workers that worked in Hadar. Her research convinced her (and her husband) that there were people in Hadar who needed the same sort of help they were providing in Nazareth. Nina developed a needs assessment checklist to ensure help got to the right people and Leon hired Aleksey, a talented cook and caterer and by March 2008 the Hadar soup kitchen was up and running. Leon dedicated himself to setting up the Hadar kitchen with the same sort of energy he lends to every project. Because Aleksey and Nina were looking after the hands on duties, Leon could concentrate on what he does best. Leon admitted, "I have learned from experience, some people are better at on the front line, running programs and others (like Leon) are better at managing them behind the scenes."

So across the street from the Shavei Tsion congregation there is a little storefront kitchen with no sign above the door. Five days a week you will see Aleksey there preparing hot meals for people who truly need them. Aleksey is perfectly suited for the job. He is a hard worker, dedicated and patient. He is also unflappable, which is a real asset when dealing directly with troubled folks. Aleksey understands that creating the proper atmosphere is almost as important as the quality of the food, "Some people are embarrassed because they need help. When they come to the kitchen they feel hopeless and humiliated. We make an effort to be kind to them, to smile and lend an encouraging word. When they realize there is a friendly atmosphere here they no longer feel ashamed."
Downtown Haifa

The kitchen produces 1,700 hot meals a month. Several volunteers help Aleksey at the kitchen. One volunteer, Kostya, is a man who knows what it is to face hard times. He has built friendships with the most debilitated street people and takes them hot meals - they are in such a state that they would probably never come to the kitchen by themselves. "I deliver food to the homeless. They wait for me impatiently every day in the same place, on a central street in Haifa. Some of them are in such bad condition that they fall asleep right on the sidewalk. I just leave their meals in front of them. Believe me, these people are desperate. When I handed a food tray to one young man he started to cry; he explained to me that he had not eaten a chicken dinner in years." Frank and Carol attend another congregation in Haifa but they too have joined the team to help out at the kitchen. "We deliver meals to handicapped and elderly people. They are always excited to see us! Preparing food might seem like an easy task when you are healthy but for some elderly people it is a difficult chore. Some older folks do not have any relatives in Israel to help them. These meals are their only opportunity to have a warm and tasty lunch."

Leon is very careful to ensure that the kitchen offers help based on biblical principles. Just as Moses instructed Israel in Leviticus 19:9 to leave the corners of the fields for the poor, so the Hadar kitchen program puts together 100 boxes of dry food to distribute to folks who need a bit of a hand but are capable of cooking their own food. As resources are limited, recipients must meet strict criteria to ensure that the help they receive serves as a "hand up" not just a "hand out." Sometimes due to illness or family crisis people need aid on a temporary basis. Nina conducts periodic evaluations to determine if aid should continue or terminate.

"Your light shall break forth in the morning ... And your righteousness shall go before you." (Isaiah 58:8)

Nina and Alexey
Helping the poor and needy is known throughout the Jewish community as Tzedakah, the Hebrew word for righteousness. In Christian circles the practical definition of righteousness leans towards moral purity. The Jewish tradition emphasizes care for those in need. The Prophets declared that righteousness is more than right living and personal holiness; it is in undoing the heavy burdens and sharing our bread with the needy that our righteousness goes before us (Isaiah 58:8). As Jacob, the Lord's brother reminded us, true religion is both keeping ourselves "unspotted from the world" and "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble." (James 1:27).

Shavei Tsion and the whole Tents of Mercy network are committed to both dimensions of righteous living. To that end Shavei Tsion is looking to expand their food program. Leon hopes to build a shelter for the homeless next year and envisions enlarging the kitchen to serve breakfast and dinner as well.

When the disciples were overwhelmed by a multitude of thousands requiring to be fed, Yeshua told them: "You give them something to eat." (Matthew 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13) Two thousand years later, Shavei Tsion Congregation is taking that challenge seriously on the streets of Haifa.

 

By Marty Shoub


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Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Daniel Juster: The News Media
Moshe Morrison: Pigs Have Kosher Feet
Asher Intrater: Stephen The First Martyr
David Shishkoff: "He Expected It To Bring Forth Good Grapes"