At noontime on a sunny winter Thursday, Menashe Bibi and a group of retired policemen are sitting on a ragtag collection of plastic chairs under a palm tree in the Mekor Haim neighborhood of Jerusalem. The morning’s chopping, stirring and washing up is done, and lunch is about to be served. While other groups of men meet at café parliaments to debate the news, these gray-haired men gather five mornings a week to prepare the food for a soup kitchen and social club called Avivim, the Hebrew word that implies springtime burgeoning.
Today’s menu, the volunteers apologize, is a little below par. Earlier in the week, they’ve been expansive in frying fish and roasting chickens, passing out gourmet leftovers to take home in plastic boxes. Today’s entrée is a hot dog stew in a piquant tomato sauce. “The soup is a little Yemenite, and Romanian, and Polish and Kurdish – like us,” says volunteer Yossi Ben-Zikri, who notes that he’s not a police officer but a former employee of the phone company Bezeq.
Inside the rented stone building, eight elderly women are meeting with a life coach. One was once my grown daughter’s nursery-school teacher. Six of the women are widows. One of the others is caring for a sick husband. The eighth is divorced.
The room is lined with computers. They are learning computer skills and Internet awareness. When one of the women admitted she didn’t know how to use a cash machine, that was the week’s empowerment homework.
“I used to be silent and now I can’t stop talking,” says a woman who insists she’s regained her long-lost voice through Avivim.
Although most of the women have been in Israel since childhood, the club offers Hebrew improvement classes and folk dancing.
Not everyone stays. Of the 150 older folks who come through here each week, about 50 sit down for lunch. A few of the women tell me they have food at home, but it’s lonely eating alone. A handful of men are there, too. Oddly, I recognize one, a former music conductor from Russia, now elderly and hard of hearing. He volunteers to play the piano in a hospital every morning. I never knew he came here for lunch.
This remarkable corner of goodness came about 17 years ago when Jerusalemite Bibi, a DVD and video merchant, lost his mother, Rivka, at age 74. He was overwhelmed by regret for the cheerless years she had spent taking care of his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. If only she’d had a place to go out, make friends, learn new skills, maybe dance a little, her final years would have been different. He took the small inheritance she left him and set up an NGO that sponsors the sort of club he’d wished she’d had. He called it Ahavat Rivka, literally Love of Rebecca.
Hanoch Ben-Yehuda, a retired police officer, was among the first volunteers. Over his career in the police, Ben-Yehuda had patrolled Jerusalem, arrested robbers, and served long in the Jericho police station that oddly looked a lot like the rectangular stone building that houses Avivim.
Constant stress was only relieved by the camaraderie of his fellow police officers, now his fellow volunteers. Making and serving lunch is therapeutic for the former toughies.
“Not only for the police officers who make up most of the volunteers, but for those of us who were hard-nosed in business, this act of volunteering brings out our softer, kinder side,” says Bibi. “Former businessmen who would fight over a few shekels happily give me generous donations.”
Ben-Yehuda didn’t have much experience in cooking, but he loved the kitchen work and the women and men he brought joy to everyday. Today he’s the chief salad maker, a fast and geometric chopper. He recruited the others.
“We learned to cook as we went along. Some of us turned out to have a little more talent than others,” said Ben-Yehuda, a Sabra father of six and grandfather.
For most of the widows at the table, the experience of men cooking and serving them is a role reversal.
Fresh sliced bread goes on the table together with bowls of salad: crisp purple cabbage seasoned with fresh coriander, cukes, tomatoes, peppers and onions, and a variation on eggplant baba ghanoush.
Next, a former policeman wheels out a wagon with steaming bowls. Then comes the rice and the hot-dog stew. Fresh fruit cocktail dotted with strawberries is dessert.
Nearly all the volunteers chip in funds themselves. They get leftover supplies from the nearby Hadaria wedding hall, from the supermarkets of the ever-generous Rami Levy and from food banks. The owner of Duvdevan bakery delivers fresh whole-wheat bread. Bookstore Tzomet Sfarim helps with the rent, and Christians for Peace drops off dry goods.
In addition to the diners, men and women bearing plastic containers come to the kitchen door to take food home.
An octogenarian named Miriam, who used to work in a restaurant in the Mahaneh Yehuda market, comes back to the kitchen to kibitz.
“I taught the men to make kubbeh,” she says of the Kurdistan dough and meatballs.
Then she sighs. “This is the best place in the world. I bet that even if you go around America, you won’t find as much love as you have here.”
The author is a Jerusalem writer and is the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.inShare
Rebecca Love – Give from the heart
In the heart of Mekor-Haim neiborhood of Jerusalem, He located an ancient Arab-style house surrounded by fruit and vegetables and plenty of fresh air. It's our home every day are a variety of low population activities.
In our House you will find a happy home, Love and respect that gives daily hot meals to people who need it, Enrichment, and various leadership and knowledge world, Computers and a wide variety of workshops disposable variety of topics and areas.
The site includes four classrooms (One computer lab), Kitchen and dining room a sophisticated.
We promise to give warmth and love to all and invite every person who needs our help just to get to and get.
All activities (Apart from the fact Cleanliness) Carried out on a voluntary basis.
This year as every year, we begin months before the Passover holiday preparations : Fundraising packages we distribute to families (Each package is valued at five hundred shekels , We only costs about 250 h”H. Since these provisions are part of the contribution.) Packages include 3 K.”C. Meat,3 K.”Chicken c ,A package or two of matzah , Wine, Honey, Cans, And matzo flour 10 K.”G of vegetables and fruits.
Of activity began on the open 3.9.2014 Registration of all courses Bmoadon.biom it appear all guides and present the contents of the Department. Activity begins on Sunday’ 14.9.2014
After expanding the capacity to three classrooms we're expanding the number of circles..
כיום מוצעים החוגים הבאים: Gymnastics, Crafts, Stories and weekly Torah portion ,English (Beginners and advanced), Hebrew (Two grades.), Current Events, Yoga (Two groups), Computers for beginners and advanced (Number of teams), Folk dancing, Create beads and personal development.
We continue to search for volunteer guides departments in other topics.
We provide holiday packages products for hundreds of families in coordination with the regional welfare offices.
Each package contains meat, Poultry, Flour or unleavened bread and honey (Depending on the holiday), Rice ,Sugar, Various canning, Vegetables and fruits, etc..
Value of each package as 500 Q”Report. Cost about 250 NIS”Report (Most products are obtained from donations).
This year we also give each family a shopping cart.
Thank you to all the volunteers who help in packaging and distribution packages. Congratulations!!
Soldiers team 10 Of course cleaning path and came to us for help arranging club,
And that's what we wrote:
“In honor of Club Aviv
We were happy to help you help Lahrim.ldatno what you are doing this is holy work.
May you do so for many years and the people who visit here will benefit from what you offer.
We were happy to work and contribute to ,You folks are amazing.
Team 10 Turnover from”Path Course Report 22.2.2011 “
We thank the staff 10
Hot lunch is served about fifty people. In addition to providing meals consumed in the thirty or who can not get to families with children.