It was rough, because on one hand, people who had been clamoring to return to their homes in Eretz Yisrael were grateful to finally be granted entry. On the other hand, they faced two weeks of imposed home-bound quarantine. No groceries. No fresh air. And in lots of cases, no family to drop off even the bare necessities that they’d need to get started.
Chaim V’Chessed’s staff has devoted more than 5 years to tending to many various needs of the English-speaking community in Israel, from special education to hospital navigation to mental health and bureaucratic guidance and more. Dealing with an average of 100 new inquiries each day before coronavirus struck (a number that has now risen to nearly 200) means that the organization has been intimately involved in many hundreds of lives and is therefore uniquely attuned to the needs of the English-speaking community.
For the first several months of the Corona crisis, hundreds of families found themselves stranded far from home. These families live in Israel, yet have not become Israeli citizens. With the closing of Israel’s borders to foreigners, families who had travelled abroad for Pesach found themselves unable to return to Israel. Chaim V’Chessed lead the effort to obtain permission for visa holder families to be allowed entry into Israel. At the end of May, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri finally acceded to the demands and created a process for reentry. As with all travellers to Israel, these families would be forced to enter a strict, 14 day quarantine upon their return home.
With the ominous quarantine on the horizon for hundreds of returnees, Chaim V’Chessed foresaw the challenge involved in coming home to an empty house, far from family and support. The organization instantly sprung into action. Food was purchased from a distributor at wholesale prices. Arrangements were made for packaging to be done by Yad Eliezer, an organization experienced at food box packing. Yeshivas and Kollels were contacted for names of returning families. And a team of volunteers was assembled to deliver the goods.
The packages included paper goods, dry goods, cooking basics, drinks, snacks and much more. The goal was to provide enough basics to start the arriving families off during their quarantine. Far from a paltry offering, the products in each box was valued at over 300 NIS.
“We wanted to provide the families with staples they would need to practically get started on their quarantine, when groceries are harder to buy,” says Rabbi Paysach Freedman, CEO of Chaim V’Chessed. “And there was also a not-so-subtle message we sent with the boxes, and that was how important it is to adhere to the quarantine, no matter how challenging it might be, for the safety of the community and for the sake of the other families who still want to return from abroad.” Indeed, a descriptive brochure with quarantine rules was included in each box.
In the initial round of the project, 500 welcome packages were delivered throughout Jerusalem. Mrs. Shani Warsager normally oversees Chaim V’Chessed’s Medical Department. Yet, she interrupted her busy medical work to coordinate distribution of the welcome boxes. Neighborhoods reached included Bayit Vegan, Sorotzkin, Ramat Eshkol, Arzei HaBira and more.
On Erev Shabbos, the Chaim V’Chessed team followed up with a nut and candy platter for all those families. Mrs. Warsager says, “No, they didn’t need nuts or candy for Shabbos. But they needed the warmth and the love, and Chaim V’Chessed was there to provide it.”
Requests for packages did not stop, and the organization decided to send out a second round of packages, this time delivering another 120 packages.
The project has now come to a close, along with the initial influx of Jerusalem returnees from abroad. But the sweet taste of welcome will linger for a very long time.
Click here to see a feature in Mishpacha magazine about the campaign.
One family took the time to pen their very real feelings about the task of returning home and what it meant to receive this package. The picture they paint is priceless.
To all at Chaim V’Chessed,
Since we arrived in Eretz Yisroel a year and a half ago, everyone told us to be in touch with Chaim V’Chessed if any problems arose. You helped us out a few times with forms and questions and we always felt like there was someone there who would happily help us out with the confusing red tape. But nothing could have prepared us for the outpouring of care and warmth we have felt in these past few weeks.
When coronavirus turned over the world with pain and discomfort and a new chaotic reality began, Chaim V’Chessed was our anchor in the stormy sea. Steadfast and on the ball, you kept us updated with clear reports and when we called with any queries – “Have there been any changes?” “Are they still putting people up in hotels or can we quarantine at home?” – we were answered calmly and never made to feel like we were bothering. In fact, when my husband once prefaced his call by saying, “I am sorry for disturbing,” he was quickly told, “No! You are not disturbing at all. How can I help you?”…
Then the long-awaited day came and we were finally on our way home! Eretz Yisroel! Arriving to an empty airport and having our temperature taken was all quite disorienting. Yet when we arrived to our flat and saw two filled boxes with any necessity we may have needed, all done with such thought and attention to detail, we instantly felt at home. You really thought of everything! Games, hand sanitizer, basic food staples, drink, etc. It really made the idea of quarantine seem manageable for us when we knew we had someone looking out for us. Our parents were so impressed when we described your generosity and kindness – “Mi Kaamcha Yisroel!”
Thursday evening. A knock on the door. I looked through the peephole, no one was there. Yet a silent angel from Chaim V’Chessed had dropped off a delicious Shabbos treat. We felt so touched! You totally went above and beyond…
Thank you so much for making this strange period a beautiful time we will always look back upon with fond memories. May Hashem grant you all with only brocha and hatzlacha, nachas and simchos, and may Klal Yisroel know of no more tzaar.
The S. Family