The Claims Conference, an organization that administers compensation received from Germany for Holocaust survivors, has stopped funding a network of soup kitchens run by the Colel Chabad charity, generating a deficit that threatens to shut down the aid program.
The Israel director of Colel Chabad, Rabbi Mendy Blau, said the charity has had to halt some meal deliveries to Holocaust survivors and may have to close some of their soup kitchens in Ashdod, Ashkelon and elsewhere because of a NIS 500,000 deficit due to the funding shortfall.
The Conference, which has been funding 23 soup kitchens for the past 12 years to the tune of an annual NIS 1 million, halted its funding in July due to a dispute with the Welfare Ministry which validates the names of survivors to confirm their eligibility to patronize the soup kitchens.
The total budget for the soup kitchens is about NIS 10m. a year. Other funds are provided by the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews and the Welfare Ministry, which provides NIS 100,000 a year.
Colel Chabad serves about 4,000 meals a day to those in need, about a third of them to Holocaust survivors. Approximately half of the meals are consumed at the soup kitchens and the other half are home-delivered.
The funding crisis stems from April 2015 when the Conference urged that survivors be issued magnetic cards to swipe each time they visit a soup kitchen, as a method of verifying their identities.
Colel Chabad agreed to implement such a system, but the Welfare Ministry objected.
In November, the ministry told the charity that the Conference had halted its funding for the kitchens. Colel Chabad has since incurred a NIS 500,000 deficit.
Blau told The Jerusalem Post, “This is a bureaucratic dispute and Holocaust survivors are suffering because of it.
“If the Welfare Ministry doesn’t agree to the new system then the Claims Conference should disconnect itself from the ministry and work directly with NGOs as other foundations do,” he said.
“We marked International Holocaust Day on Wednesday, and we demand from the world to mark this day as well, and it’s a disgrace that the poorest Holocaust survivors who need this food will have to go without it because of a bureaucratic dispute,” Blau added.
Following a request for comment, Welfare Minister Haim Katz criticized the identity card system proposed by the Claims Conference and said that the ministry would not agree to it. Katz also said the kitchens should not have to close, and suggested the ministry would continue paying the shortfall.
“The demand that hungry elderly people who come to the doors of soup kitchen should identify themselves is unacceptable,” said Katz.
“Anyone who cannot afford food is entitled to help. We understand the position of the Claims Conference, but we do not accept it and [the identity card system] will not be approved. Since the Claims Conference halted its funding half a year ago, the ministry has funded the activities of the soup kitchen. They have not closed and they will not close.”
Shlomo Gur, Claims Conference vice president for Israel, defended the demand for a verification system for soup kitchen patrons as necessary to prevent fraud.
Gur said former users have in the past submitted identity numbers of people who had died or lived in another city.
“Our job is to help Holocaust survivors and only Holocaust survivors, and we are required to ensure that our money goes to Holocaust Survivors alone,” said Gur.
“We therefore need to ensure people using soup kitchens are Holocaust survivors and that they are eating there on a regular basis. If we can’t guarantee that our support is going to these people then we aren’t fulfilling our mandate and our purpose.”
Gur said the Prime Minister’s Office and the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee have been expected since December to name a panel to look into the issue, but that no such step appears to have been taken.