My hands shake with hunger as I peel and slice the three small carrots I have been saving since Sunday. I saute them in oil to add some fat to my meal. There are two slices of bread left. I sit at the table, place my little girl on my lap, and begin to dip the crusty bread into the oily carrots, eating slowly and carefully. I smile at my daughter as she munches her food peacefully. My insides are churning with anxieties. I do not know how we will eat again, although I know we must.
We go to the park to pass the afternoon hours. I watch my child play with the other children and find myself wondering what foods they left over on their plates today. I turn my head to hide my tears and silently pray for help.
It hasn’t always been this way. It was easy for us in the beginning. We both worked hard but brought home a decent combined salary with enough left over for some small savings. Despite an overwhelming bill from a medical situation, we were pulling through remarkably well. We worked for non-profit chesed organizations that provided us with the means to do work we felt good about and be able to afford to give of ourselves the way we loved best. Our home was open to anyone. We thrived on having guests for Shabbos and giving teenagers who had no place to go a warm bed and a listening ear. Our lives were full.
When the financial world went into a crisis, we felt it first. No one wanted to support the programs my husband and I were involved with. Within the year, it was all over. The doors of our respective institutions closed forever two months apart. Our savings we had been so proud of did not even equal the amount of one month’s rent. We entered the world of poverty.
I call my husband. My voice is unsteady as I explain the situation to him. He will have to ask again. We must buy some food. We hang up wearily. The shame is nearly all gone. It is becoming easier to ask and even easier to take.
It is long past nightfall when my husband returns home from work with 100 shekels in his pocket and invitations for all three Shabbos meals. We make a list of essentials, forgoing anything we can live without. Bread, milk, eggs and basic vegetables will be all. Fruit is out of our budget, although I know my husband will find a way to buy an orange or two for Shabbos. I cannot complain as I now have more than this morning. My husband sees the despair in my eyes and tells me it will be okay. I try to be strong for him. I feel so guilty that I cannot bear this burden with him. I have our daughter to care for, as well as our unborn child who will soon need me to go on bed-rest. I know we are doing all we can. I am still unable to let go and trust that it will really be okay.
We are managing, and even I can start to see that it is only through miracles. Somehow, we have become accustomed to this new lifestyle and we have even managed some joyful moments. I have not yet accepted it. I still resist and resist, even when it is so obvious, but I am losing this battle. I am poor. I am relying on tzedakah to live. It is a reality I have to learn to face with the joy my life deserves.
It is Thursday night. The kids are in bed and I am waiting to hear what our Shabbos plans will be. I ache to be the one to nourish my family this week. I am tired of eating by other people, slowly cutting up chicken to make it last longer. I want to cook a big pot of soup and bake challah, maybe even some dessert.
A noise startles me out of my desperate thoughts. The gate to the courtyard closes softly and my heart begins to pound. I peer outside. There is something on the floor. I am not expecting anything.
My husband comes home to find me weeping on the ground. He rushes to me with concern. I raise my tearful eyes to him, a smile stretched across my face and laugh with the most joyous feeling in the world. The three boxes I am surrounded with are full of food. There are enough chickens for three Shabbatot. Rice, beans, barley and pasta, tuna, tomato paste and corn fill one box. There is cereal, formula, diapers and fresh wipes as well as soap and shampoo. The last box, full of more groceries, holds the items that have given me the most joy. I take out a bag of nosh for my little girl, and a few bars of chocolate for a tired, worn-out mother of two.
It did get better. With a lot of hard work and the kindness of strangers, we got on our feet. We now have enough each month to get by on our own. We recently hosted guests for Shabbos and had the opportunity to help others. It is a slow and steady climb out of the dark, but we have experienced something we never could have understood before. The love we felt that one Shabbos lifted us out of feeling so low and forgotten. It stayed with us long after the food was gone and propelled us into a new dimension where we could believe, trust and hope.
I am not yet in a position to give freely, but I know that when the time comes, I will have that bar of chocolate in mind when I go above and beyond what is expected of me.