The Experience Of Ofakim: Giving the Gift of Shabbat
by Michael Ganoe
Throughout the majority of my adult life, I have read and studied the history of the Jewish people and their contributions to the world. Before arriving to this land for which my heart pined for years, I wanted to witness and become part of the love and passion of what encompasses Israel.
On this last Shabbat, I was fortunate to experience this passion from Israeli families because I was finally able to understand and witness the true needs of people who continue to struggle, but rebuild.
As a newcomer to Israel representing the Middle East Research Center Ltd., I was proud to work with The Israel Forever Foundation to bring the spirit of peace and the gift of Shabbat to families in the South of Israel who have been left struggling in their times of need. However, I could not have prepared myself for what I was about to see in the small town of Ofakim, Southern Israel.
Together with Moshe the caterer, we loaded his vehicle with box after box of warm, fresh smelling food that seemed to draw out the appetite, yet make one full just by the fragrance. After seeing the contents of each box, I fully realized the blessing that each Shabbat meal would bring to these families. Challah bread, vegetables, soup, and desserts filled the 4x4 box that would feed a family heartily during their time of reverence and rest.
As we drove through the small town of Ofakim that had been affected by the barrage of missiles from Hamas, I saw with my own eyes the destruction and felt the fear of what these residents had to live with daily. As an American, I cannot imagine what it would take to live and work in a town that exists under this constant cloud of terror.
Every home had its own story. From the elderly woman who had no family and no support, to a single mother raising 5 children on her own after the death of their father from a heart attack not long after their immigration to Israel. These families had the same struggles of trying to rebuild their lives because incomes were drastically reduced due to not being able to physically work. Yet I saw the biggest smiles when doors opened and the meals were overwhelmingly accepted with tears.
Even though this aid brought temporary relief, each meal would be a blessing for the next day or possibly two. It would be an addition to the small amount of food they already had and it would prolong their meager personal supply. This mitzvah, this good deed gives these families more time to pull themselves up from this difficult situation they are facing each and every day.
Since Shabbat, I have been thinking about Israel and the good deeds being completed daily that has brought blessings and perhaps miracles. We must acknowledge and show gratitude for our lives being changed by people with hope, courage and the strength to succeed as the families in Ofakim showed me.
Humanity's greatest blessing are the people that stand for what is right and who send a message to those who may be less fortunate, struggling and in need.
With the holiday of Chanukah approaching, I cannot help but think of the story of the Maccabees and their struggle and triumph. The Israeli people to whom I feel a part, we are the Maccabees of today. And remember that no matter where you are in the world, your personal connection to Israel makes you one too!
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