By Frimet Blum
In the narrow streets of Yerushalayim, tradition reigns supreme as kapparos stalls, esrog stands, and sukkah boards vie for sidewalk space and pedestrians rush from place to place. Yet for thousands across the country, there is one more Aseres Yimei Teshuvah tradition—the Mesamche Lev yom tov distribution. Families in every corner of Eretz Yisrael take part in the event, which enables them to celebrate yom tov with meat, groceries, and joy. The tradition began many years ago, when Rabbi Zalman Ashkenazi first began distributing meat to the poor for yom tov. In recent years, it has mushroomed into a massive experience, and become part of the Tishrei landscape.
“I’ve been getting meat coupons for years,” says Chana P., a widow with nine children, who plans to redeem her coupons for her family’s yom tov meat on Monday. “It’s part of my family’s yom tov preparations. I bring my coupons along when we do kapparos, so I can pick up my meat on the way home. At night, I put up a roast. The meat is a specialty for us. My children wait for this all year.”
Chana is not the only one to consider meat a specialty. Even poultry is a treat for families that struggle to put bread on the table. Some of the families cook just one half of a chicken for Shabbos; for the whole family to share. They have little else to eat. The families include widows, as well as Torah scholars, large families, and others who have no other way to prepare for yom tov. Mesamche Lev’s meat and grocery coupons relieve them of a heavy financial burden, and bring them great simchas yom tov.
Recipient families will redeem their coupons this week. They’ve already placed their orders, chosen from a selection of poultry and different cuts of meat, and will pick up their packed boxes at one of several local butcher stores. The families will “pay” for the meat with Mesamche Lev coupons sponsored by generous donors. Over half of the families will also redeem generous grocery coupons worth hundreds of shekels that will allow them the rare joy of putting everything they need, from coffee to household basics, into their shopping carts.
In light of the recent cuts to funding for families with children, the distribution is more welcome than ever. Families who struggle mightily, and children who are often hungry, will have meat and food for yom tov. They will start the new year in a spirit of joy and plenty. The distribution will be attended by families from the entire spectrum of Torah Jewry. Sephardim will join Ashkenazim, chassidim will mingle with Litvishe families; Yerushalmim will stand together with American olim. Mesamche Lev will bring simcha to life for all of them.
Mesamche Lev has been supporting widows ever since its inception. Currently, 368 widows in Eretz Yisrael receive checks that relieve them of the financial burden they carry, and allow them to focus on the great task of raising their children alone. The yom tov distribution goes a long way towards helping them bring joy into their orphaned children’s lives.
The organization’s largesse will extend across the ocean, to 129 widows in the United States who are Mesamche Lev’s most recent beneficiaries. For the past few years, the organization has been helping American widows with great discretion, and helping almanos in the most dignified way possible; often without ever contacting them directly. The assistance fills a great void.
“I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and ask for assistance,” wrote one New York widow upon her receipt of a large check from Mesamche Lev. “I was too proud and ashamed to accept tzedakah. Ultimately, the Avi Yesomim made sure to take care of my family.”
Mesamche Lev has long been the agent of the Avi Yesomim V’Dayan Almanos. The upcoming distribution is just one of many activities the organization undertakes to help widows and the poor. Right now, Mesamche Lev is already beginning preparations for its Pesach shoe distribution, where 42,000 children will receive brand new, top quality shoes. With shoe manufacturers already preparing for spring, Mesamche Lev must place its orders now—and pay a deposit of $250! That, although the Tishrei distribution is barely in process.
With a budget of well over $1 million, this week’s distribution represents not only a sampling of Mesamche Lev’s great work, but also the dedication and support of generous donors. Supporters can be assured that when they sponsor meat or grocery coupons, their tzedakah funds relieve the poor of a great burden, and earn them a great zechus in the Yemei HaDin. To make a tax-deductible contribution, send donations to Mesamche Lev; 1364 53rd Street; Brooklyn, NY 11219. Donations can also be made at 718-506-1400 or mesamchelev.org. v