Aliyah diary: Spud story
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Aliyah diary: Spud story

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Volunteers pack produce.

A few weeks ago, I spent three hours packing potatoes in a Jerusalem alleyway. This week, it was tomatoes.

I had decided to tag along with our new friends and neighbors, Beth and David, who donate a huge amount of time each week to charity projects. If it’s Thursday, you’ll find them at Ohr Meir & Bracha Terror Victims Support Center. This homegrown organization is run by a tiny dynamo named Liora Tedgi.

Liora doesn’t have a lot of spare cash or time. Injured in a terrorist attack during the second intifada, this mother of 10 has the pure faith and direct divine “pipeline” that seem quite common among Yemenite Jews.

She told Beth and me that after the bombing, some of its dead victims began appearing in her dreams, asking her to help their loved ones. She started seeking out these families, armed only with the information from her dreams, and discovered many unmet needs and unrecognized secondary victims. Today, she also helps sufferers of the ongoing Hamas missile barrage.

“There are hundreds of victims of terror who ‘fall between the cracks’ of the Israeli government’s aid initiatives,” I read on her Website, terror-victims.org.il. “They do not receive help because their injuries are deemed insufficient to be recognized as medical disabilities, or because they are still in the process of being assessed for disability (which can take two or more years).”

From its start in 2002, Ohr Meir & Bracha has provided a host of services including free food deliveries each Thursday to affected families – now about 400 of them.

That’s where I came in.

Beth and David led me to the alleyway near the Tedgis’ home, where a truck had earlier brought pallets full of fresh produce from a farm near Rehovot. At 10 a.m., Liora and her husband, Nissim, and several other volunteers had started ripping open the huge net bags and repacking each type of fruit or vegetable in family-sized plastic sacks to be deposited in 400 blue totes lined up on the sidewalk. Throughout the afternoon and evening, other volunteers would arrive in cars and vans to gather and distribute them.

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Abigail Klein Leichman packs tomatoes.

Liora’s goal is to receive enough donations to supplement the produce with bread (not during Pesach), eggs, oil, sugar, flour, frozen chicken, and other items for the baskets in addition to the fresh produce. She cannot always meet this goal.

In between Thursdays, Liora is not exactly sitting on her hands. Her organization helps with funeral costs and shiva food; offers hospital visits and psychological and legal services; and operates a 24-hour emergency hot line. Families affected by terror who lack clothing, appliances, or school supplies get a check. She finds volunteer big brothers or big sisters for traumatized children. And when finances allow, Liora runs therapeutic vacation programs to bring a change of pace to difficult lives.

It is important to stress that Liora Tedgi is hardly the only one of her extraordinary kind in Israel.

This tiny country, so full of trauma and so short on funds, is also full of kind and generous souls – both Jewish and Christian. For every need there are several volunteer organizations ready to help. One Family Fund, NAVAH, the Koby Mandell Foundation, and Kids for Kids are among those that, like Ohr Meir & Bracha, cater exclusively to primary and secondary victims of Arab terror.

You might not think that three hours of loading vegetables could be exhilarating. But it goes a long way in easing the feeling of helplessness in the face of indescribable suffering.

Beth observed that we American ex-pats are accustomed to the misguided notion that acquiring things is the key to fulfillment. “Bernie Madoff thought he had it made with all the luxuries he bought with other people’s money,” she said to me with a satisfied grin as we picked soil from under our tired fingernails. “And look where it got him. He should have tried packing potatoes with us.”

It is an always changing group that shows up from week to week. There are Israelis and Americans, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, religious and non-religious, old and young.

One of our fellow packers was an Israeli terror victim. Another regular, originally from Savannah, said she knew my brother. We were also joined by a tourist from West Orange, a bunch of little schoolboys from the neighborhood, and the young physical therapist who’d treated my strained ligament a few months back. Former Teaneckite Barbara Casden recently came along.

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The filled baskets await distribution.

Someone asked Nissim how the volunteers manage when it rains. “It has never rained while we’re working,” he replied, passing around cups and pouring drinks for everyone.

By 1 p.m., as we were putting the final spuds in their sacks, we were almost sorry to say goodbye to the congenial crew.

But there is always next week.

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