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A Symbol of Hope and Happiness

Portrait of Yael Eckstein

September 14, 2014

Shalom,

Last week, my 8-year-old daughter came home from school with holiday pictures she had painted for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As we looked over the pictures, she explained to me each painting’s significance. “This picture is of a shofar,” she said. “A shofar is a ram’s horn that we blow on Rosh Hashanah to wake up our heart and soul to repentance.” I sat at the table filled with pride as she continued to go through her school work. “These are apples being dipped in honey to represent a sweet new year,” she said, which led her to her next question. “What special food are you making for the holiday, Mommy?” she asked, with a large smile on her face and her voice full of excitement.

As I read off my planned holiday menu, full of all of my children’s favorite foods, I couldn’t help but think about Melina, a single mother of four whose children silently pray for chicken or meat all year round. When I met Melina last week, I sadly learned that instead of being a time of joy, Rosh Hashanah is a time of stress and sadness in her home.

Melina immigrated to Israel from Russia at a young age and was always grateful to God for bringing her home. “In Russia we couldn’t practice our Jewish faith openly and with true freedom, so when we came to Israel it felt like redemption,” she told me.

Melina remembers her family’s Shabbat and holiday celebrations being filled with joy, thanksgiving, and worship, and those are exactly the kinds of memories that she desperately wants her children to have. “I yearn for the phrase ‘happy holidays’ to come true in my home, but when we do not have special food to eat or holiday clothing to wear, the holidays bring more sadness than joy,” she said. She is in the same heartbreaking situation as so many single mothers in Israel. She is working hard – sometimes even double shifts and skipping entire nights of sleep – for a less than $6 an hour.

No matter how much Melina works, she does not have money to cover all of her bills. It is not rare for Melina to have her electricity or water shut off, but it is the worry and sadness she sees within her children that upset her most. “My children used to beg me for chicken and meat and I couldn’t say no to them, so I would buy their favorite foods with the last money I had,” she said, her voice shaking. “Eventually they realized that the months I would buy chicken or meat, our electricity would be turned off. For the past year, they have stopped even asking me for their favorite foods. This means that they have fallen into despair, and it breaks my heart.”

Melina lives in a two-room apartment. Her daughters share one room and her sons share the other, and she is left to sleep in the tiny living room on a broken couch. They have one closet that they all share, and most of their clothing sits folded in bags on the floor. They eat their meals sitting around a second-hand folding table. “I’m doing everything in my power to provide my children with a stable and good life, but I feel like I’m failing,” Melina cried, as I rubbed her back and offered her words of encouragement.

“Mommy, what are you thinking about?” my daughter asked, snapping me back to the present and our table filled with her holiday pictures. “I’m thinking of how important it is to appreciate what God has given us and to help others in every way we can, especially during the holiday season,” I told her.

This Jewish New Year is very special to me. I am thanking God for granting me another blessed year on this earth, and for my health, family, and security.

I am also entering the holiday with a joyous heart knowing that because of The Fellowship and our Jewish and Christian friends around the world, this Rosh Hashanah is bringing Melina and thousands of other poor, single mothers a glimpse of hope and a ray of happiness.

Melina – along with over 10,000 poor, single mothers in Israel – is receiving a Fellowship food card, so that she can go shopping in dignity, pick out her family’s favorite food, and provide a happy and special holiday meal that she and her children deserve.

This year, because of the compassion of The Fellowship’s friends, the Jewish New Year will be a symbol of hope instead of despair and a time of happiness instead of sadness.

Praise God, for the first time in over a year, Melina’s children will enjoy a meal of meat and chicken without having to worry about their electricity getting turned off.

We all have a lot to be grateful for. Here in Israel, we are grateful for you.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy New Year,

Yael

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