High school student Jamie Trepeck never realized the scope of poverty in Israel until she joined the effort to fight it.
“I know that poverty is an issue everywhere, but I didn’t understand to what extent it was here,” Trepeck said. “There are so many people that need help.”Trepeck volunteered at Pitchon Lev, a Rishon Lezion-based nonprofit organization that helps more than 200,000 people annually. It was part of her trip from Detroit, where 120 students spent a month in Israel, experiencing culture, visiting tourist sites and giving back to the country through volunteer work.
The Sue and Allen Jay Kaufman Family Teen Mission to Israel is meant to build the connection between students and Israel, and allow students to choose one elective project to further that connection.
One of those electives was an intensive volunteering project where delegates recently went to Pitchon Lev. For Trepeck, the experience was shocking.
“I was shocked because [poverty in Israel] is not very publicized, but they told us that one in three children are living below the poverty line,” Trepeck said. “It’s crazy to think that a third of kids are living in those conditions. I am happy I could contribute. It takes more than packaging vegetables but it’s a step.”
=About 25 students from the trip packaged vegetables to be handed out to different families. For Eli Cohen, CEO of Pitchon Lev, volunteer groups like this are amazing, even though people volunteer daily.
“I will never be able to say it’s an everyday thing,” Cohen said
“[People in need] are so proud and extremely touched and moved that someone from – geographically speaking – the other side of the world [helped them]. That is always very touching and very moving and that will always be something special.”
Pitchon Lev gives out food parcels, clothes, medical aid, legal advice and anything else a family needs. It also focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty by educating children, and tries to get the government to enact legislation to handle poverty.
“I think non-profits can handle local issues,” Cohen said. “They can’t change it at a national level. [The government needs] to step up and do what is right. If you take 15 years ago, the only issue on the table was the conflict and military issues. But we can see in the last elections that the social issue was a very big issue. I pray that the social issues will be bigger and bigger at the political level.”
Statistically, if nothing is done about the poverty rate, over 50 percent of the population will be living below the poverty line in 20 to 30 years, according to Cohen. Currently, 1.8 million people live in poverty in Israel.
For Rabbi Jen Lader, one of the leaders of the Teen Mission to Israel, this was a great way to connect youth to the world.
“I believe strongly that teens are looking for connection,” Lader said
“They are in this world where they are so focused on social media, more isolated than they ever have been before. This breaks them out of that cycle of isolation. And teens love helping other people.”
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Photo Credit : Ziv Toledano