In the bustling kitchen of Fellowship-supported Mana Hama soup kitchen in Ashdod, a lone blonde woman, both focused and friendly, takes charge. Her name is Maya. She and a handful of other volunteers work in unison to prepare lunch for the dozens of homeless and downtrodden who are lined up outside the building.
Every day, Maya rises before the sun and makes her way to Mana Hama where she begins her daily routine. Day after day, the kitchen staff—with Maya’s guidance—feed Ashdod’s hungry. It’s an important role that Maya never envisioned herself in. But her life has been anything but predictable.
She was born in Volgograd, Russia, back when the city was called Stalingrad. Her mother survived World War II in a Jewish ghetto in Moldova. The Nazis created ghettos like hers to isolate Jews from both non-Jewish and other Jewish communities alike. It was the first step of Hitler’s Final Solution to wipe out the Jewish race.
Maya grew up in Russia mired in poverty but content. She married and fulfilled her dream of making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) when the two moved in 1997. Life in Israel has still been extremely difficult. Unable to work and with minimal income, they are forced to live in a hostel. All their money goes to rent with none left for food. Still, they are happy to be in Israel where their hearts felt called, and they are grateful for the kitchen.
For the past six years, Maya has served her community from 5:30am–2:30pm every day. She works tirelessly over massive pots of soup and stew, she tends to dozens of chickens cooking to perfection in an oversized oven, she slices vegetables for salads, and if she has a moment to rest, she has a moment to clean. This is her way of saying thank you, her way of giving.
She discovered Mana Hama when she and her husband could go hungry no more. And as they returned for meals, she realized the kitchen was understaffed and in need of help. She didn’t hesitate to volunteer her service and culinary skills—much to everyone’s benefit.
Many of the kitchen’s daily patrons come from afar like her; she serves friends from Ethiopia, Poland, Romania, Russia and beyond. She says they share the common thread of relying on the kitchen to eat and survive.
“This is one big family!” she says with a laugh and a grin.Tags: Faces of the Fellowship