JCF to help poor Israelis eat, drink, be merry on Pesach

While the Passover Haggadah commands "Let all who are hungry come and eat," the ongoing intifada and a crumbling economy has left more and more Israelis unable to put food on the table, let alone offer it to strangers.

"There are kids going without even breakfast in the mornings before school. The economy is in a very bad situation, and, as a result, there is poverty. I think it's a very bad stretch; it hasn't been this way since the country started," said Orly Rinat, who emigrated from the Tel Aviv area to Los Altos 14 years ago.

"When I talked with people that have foundations to help these families, they told me one of the things Jewish and Israeli people can do is help these families at least have their own seder."

So when Rinat returned stateside, she and friend Eve Bernstein launched the "Share a Seder" program. Along with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the women hope to raise money from Jews worldwide to help impoverished Israeli families eat, drink and be merry on Passover.

"I personally know communities where whole municipalities are out of work," said Bernstein.

"We want to do whatever we can. We're realistic enough to know we're not going to save the world or end the crisis, but in this one way we can help."

Thanks to connections turned up by the JCF's Amuta, a volunteer group of Israelis, needy families will be located by social service organizations and soup kitchens.

Families will be given vouchers for roughly $100, which can be redeemed at a participating vendor.

"We hope to reach tens of thousands of people. I think lots of us want to do something in the face of all the bad news in the world," said Stacie Hershman, the JCF's campaign director.

"We haven't really done anything in this way before. We're trying to maximize use of the Internet to reach people and have them contribute online."

Solely via word of mouth, Bernstein confirmed that more than $10,000 has been raised for the program. The federation is currently sending out mass e-mails and has set up a Share a Seder Web page at www.jewishfed.org/share-a-seder

The less Web-savvy can call the federation at (415) 777-0411. Because of logistical difficulties, donors are urged to make a contribution before Monday, April 7.

"I thought it was a great idea for all of the Jewish diaspora to come together and help Israel in this time. I'm looking big — there are more than 100,000 families below the poverty line," said Rinat.

"As much as we are able to do, I'll be satisfied. Helping Israeli families have a seder, I think it's a great way for Jewish communities all over the world to unite and do something together."