Meah Shearim, Israel - Inspired By His Own Hunger As A Child, Jerusalem Man Feeds Hundreds Of Families
Meah Shearim, Israel - A Jerusalem resident who, due to extreme poverty, was forced as a young child to take on the responsibility of bringing home food to feed his parents and siblings, has spent over a decade on a personal crusade to feed the hungry.
“I was the oldest of thirteen children and Baruch Hashem, my parents worked very, very hard to bring parnassa home,” Rabbi Yakov Schisha told VIN News. “The money went for the rent, for schar limud for the children One month we pay the electric and telephone bill, one month not. When it came to food, there was no money left. At eight years old, my job was to bring food home.”
Schischa, who lived near Meah Shearim, would go to the shuk and ask for donations from merchants, oftentimes picking up fruits and vegetables that had fallen on the floor and were no longer saleable.
“I went every Friday to Brezel’s bakery to take home the leftover challahs and mezonos before they closed,” recalled Schischa. “In the middle of the week I would go to different organizations to pick up food.”
The wait for food at these distributions was frequently hours long and generally accompanied by pushing and shoving.
“I saw that the family was so happy when I brought food home,” said the thirty year old Schischa, who is now a father of seven. “But I also felt the embarrassment when I would have to stand there for a long time to get food. I decided that when I was older I would find a good business and I would try to feed a hungry family.”
Schischa got married at 19 and shared his plans to feed another family with his wife just one week after they completed Sheva Brachos.
“I went every day in Shul and collected money, one shekel here, one shekel there,” said Schischa, who used the funds to purchase food for his parents and for a needy family.
“Every week it was one more family. And then one more family. And then another,” explained Schischa.
A few weeks later, Schischa received a $1000 contribution that was earmarked for Chanukah oil for the poor. Schischa bought 200 small bottles of oil which he distributed to needy families, and seeing the happiness the donated oil brought, he started a small organization to help the indigent, doling out supplies for Purim and Pesach.
“I didn’t have a name for the organization yet, but I was just 20 years old and I had Kimcha D’Pischa for 200 families.”
Ten years later, Schischa’s small organization has evolved into Tov V’Chesed, which has offices in Jerusalem, New York and London. Packages are distributed weekly, monthly and for holidays to needy families in various neighborhoods in Israel including Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beitar, Kiryat Sefer/Brachfeld and Beit Shemesh.
“Right now we distribute food for the holidays for 2500 families,” said Schischa. “Every year, every two years, we open up one more place.”
Having experienced firsthand the difficulties that accompany poverty, Schischa prides himself on preserving the dignity of his recipients. Food is delivered directly to the recipients front door in a plain unmarked box, looking no different than a grocery delivery from a local store.
“There are no signs on the trucks,” reported Schischa. “I put one small letter on the outside of the box and the workers know that the letter needs to be placed next to the door so that only the family can see it and know that the box is from Tov V’chesed.”
In the letter, Schischa gives each family names of people to daven for.
“There are two reasons why we do this,” explained Schischa. “One is that we know that if you daven for someone who has the same need as you, your tefillos are answered. The other is that by giving them someone to daven for, we are giving people their dignity by making them feel that they aren’t just taking, they are givers as well.”
Schischa, who now has two successful businesses, ReserveKosher.com and YES Management, to his credit, relies on donations to fund Tov V’Chesed’s annual budget of $2.5 million. He estimates that he sends out weekly packages, consisting of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, cake and grape juice to 85 families and monthly packages of staples such as canned goods, sugar, flour, oil, lokshen and farfel to 300 families. Additionally, Schischa distributes 2,500 packages of food for the yomim tovim and food coupons to another 900 families, in addition to offering assistance with medical issues, bar mitzvahs and weddings.
Schischa, whose warehouse is currently located on Rechov Yirmiyahu in Jerusalem, hopes to be moving to a larger facility shortly. Despite the many families he feeds on an annual basis, he hopes to continue expanding his operations in order to accommodate the one thousand plus families currently on his waiting list.
“When a family calls me to say thank you, I think about me when I was a child in my parents’ house and the simcha there would be when we would have food,” said Schischa. “I remember also the days when I went to sleep hungry, and when I would stand up in the morning and go to cheder with no food. When families are happy, I am happy.”
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