Questios and Answers with Rabbi Joseph J. Sherman on The Times of Israel
How is Imahot B’Yisroel saving single-mother families in Israel from hunger and poverty?
Without supplemental income, single-mother families in Israel are doomed to a life of persistent poorness with no hope of leaving the poverty loop. (Israel National Insurance report)
Among the reasons for this is because the criteria for receiving government subsidies is very limited and working mothers in Israel are already disadvantaged earning much less than men who do the same work.
For example, a single mother who wants to receive paternal support allowance has to pay hefty lawyers’ fees, but if she barely has money for monthly rent, food and clothing for her family, how can she get out of the poverty loop?
Should single-mother families in Israel be left to completely collapse financially during times when expenses pile up? By supplementing income during such times, we’re literally saving families from hunger! It’s true that thousands of Israeli families live below the poverty line, but single mother families not only are stuck in persistent poorness , but receive the least of charity dollars as well.
What kind of support do you provide?
We give dignified prepaid shopping cards before Sukkot and Pesach so single mothers can buy food and clothing for their families. Imahot B’yisroel also helps pay for unforeseen emergencies such as utility bills for services that are threatened to be shut off, medical supplies, and urgent therapeutic interventions. We also provide substantial funds for wedding expenses.
During the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) when many organizations weren’t able to give, we transferred our aid directly into single mothers’ bank accounts so they could still buy their needs for Pesach.
For many mothers, poverty is a vicious pattern leading to long-term charity dependence. The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that the highest level of charity is strengthening a person, so that they are no longer dependent on others. How can this be applied to single mothers in Israel?
Our vision is to make 0% loans available for vocational training and open small businesses to end the charity dependence of single-mother families in Israel entirely. If they receive loans to train professionally, buy equipment, and set up a work environment without paying interest– financial independence can be attained once they are in business. The same model also works for entrepreneurship and opening stores.
There are many charities and non-profit organizations in Israel. How is Imahot B’Yisroel unique?
Of course, all organizations are doing wonderful work!
We are different in several ways. In addition to being solo providers, single mothers are also the only caregivers of their families. Having not only to provide food, clothing and shelter but all other needs without a spouse to share the burden with is not only painful but impossible.
Most organizations are already stretched beyond their limits and don’t take on new cases that keep coming in fast succession. Because we are a relatively new organization we address the current needs of newer cases.
Additionally, other organizations distribute food packages and clothing but much of it goes to waste because it’s not customized for the recipient’s needs or taste. Imahot B’yisroel gives in a dignified way that lets every single mother decide how to help her family best.
Is the public aware of its moral responsibilities towards single mothers?
There is a lack of knowledge when it comes to understanding the Torah view on helping single mothers. There are many who think that the Torah commands us to take care of widows and orphans exclusively. Rashi explains that the Torah speaks in common language that is in this case supporting widows and orphans who don’t have who to provide for them.
But, this commandment actually includes every mother who is without financial backing. We’re out to fix this mistake and spread awareness of the Torah obligation to support singles who need financial aid. That’s why or organization helps elderly singles forgotten by society, and single mothers including but not limited to widowed mothers, divorced mothers, separated mothers, mothers dealing with mentally/physically ill husbands and children, etc.
How can 98% of your charity dollars go directly to families in need?
Most organizations pay regular salaries, advertise, and have other huge overhead costs. Imahot B’yisroel, on the other hand, is run voluntarily and our office fees are sponsored so 98% of charity donations go directly to the needy.
How many families to you help?
Our organization is dynamic with needs and status constantly changing. We can’t give an exact number but the calls for help keep on growing. Our estimate is that we already helped at least 90 families with over 400 children in the past two years.
Is there something that most people miss regarding charity for single mothers?
People are very generous and there are huge amounts of charity given. Unfortunately, need isn’t always prioritized and single-mother families in Israel are often disadvantaged when it comes to receiving donations. For example, if the charity is synagogue based, the mothers aren’t even on the list of recipients.
Additionally, and Jewish law takes this into account when ruling that women take precedence for charity distribution. It’s common for a man to beg, but not for a woman and it’s extremely embarrassing for her. And being the sole provider and caregiver for her family, when does she have the time to go around asking for charity?
Imahot B’yisroel helps single-mother families in Israel with as many as 12 children. Our average family has 7 individuals. Many of them are simultaneously dealing with illness (cancer), mental health challenges, handicapped children, and absent, criminal, and emotionally disturbed fathers.
The single mothers are new immigrants, converts, BT’s, and forgotten senior citizens so there are multiple mitzvos fulfilled when helping them. We supplement single mother families in Israel with financial aid for basic survival needs.
We’re not talking about birthday gifts, inviting married children, paying for art or music lessons, or therapy for hurting children. Is it surprising that children from single-mother families in Israel are often at high risk?
It follows that when you help us support single-mother families in Israel, you’re actually not only saving lives but souls as well. We’re dealing with Jewish continuity, social justice, and equal opportunity for underprivileged Jewish families living in Israel.