by Moti Cohen
Last week in Israel the government released new updates on stricter regulations for gatherings and businesses every day because of the massive spread of the corona virus. At the beginning of the week, only ten people could gather in one place. By mid week, the Ministry of Health had ordered all non-essential personnel into home quarantine.
Because of the restrictions, we could not use the soup kitchen space in south Tel Aviv for our regular Thursday Feed Tel Aviv meals for the needy. So, we decided to improvise and, with the help of my children, we made 80 sandwiches, and I headed to the streets with a couple volunteers to set up tables in different areas where drug addicts, refugees, and those caught in the sex industry live. The police were in the area, and I made sure that it was okay with them (the police are enforcing the quarantine regulations) that I set up tables with sandwiches so that people could come and take them on their own while we maintained the required two meter distance.
I was shocked at the condition of the people on the streets: it’s the worst I have ever seen in all the years I’ve been serving on the streets. Because of the risks of having people together in close quarters, almost all the homeless shelters have decided to close their doors rather than risk having a corona outbreak on their hands. So, in a week that has been unseasonably cold and rainy here in Israel, countless homeless wound up on the streets. It was a heartbreaking sight to see people trying to cover up with wet blankets. Many came to the tables we set up and all the sandwiches were quickly gone. It was hard to keep our two meter distance because people wanted prayer, they wanted the love and warmth they’re used to getting from us. But we just can’t get physically close right now in order to keep to the guidelines (people who are caught breaking them will be fined $1,000 at a minimum, jail time in extreme cases).
In times of national crisis, the poorest of the poor are the ones hardest hit because all the resources and energies are being focused elsewhere and the people who regularly serve the poor find themselves in the position of worrying about their health and well-being. I will be going out a couple times each week, bringing 100 sandwiches each time. Since all my five children are home with us, I will enlist their help in making the sandwiches again!
This is a critical time for all of us, and we tend to worry about our own well-being and the well-being of our loved ones. However, I encourage everyone to take time to pray for and consider helping the poor and vulnerable in your area. While everyone’s worrying about whether they have enough toilet paper stocked, I guarantee you that there are homeless people who have lost their safety net and will be sleeping on the streets tonight. I would also like to ask you to consider supporting us with our Feed Tel Aviv outreach. Thank you and God bless you and keep you in this challenging time!