Bringing the Light of Hanukkah to Israel’s Widows and Orphans
The oldest continuously running social welfare organization in Israel, Colel Chabad, is hosting its annual retreat for 260 orphans and widows this Hanukkah. For the past 10 years, Colel Chabad has organized a variety of therapeutic activities specifically designed for children who have lost parents in recent years, as well those who have lost spouses.
“The participants in our program are people for whom the concept of the holidays immediately reminds them of their personal losses,” says Rabbi Amram Blau, Director of the program called Chesed Menachem Mendel.
“Our objective is to let them know that they are not alone and that there are others thinking about them at this time,” said Rabbi Blau. “We want to give them a great new holiday memory.”
This year’s program took place at the Jerusalem Ramada Hotel for 75 families, who took part in a variety of entertainment and therapeutic activities.
Colel Chabad was founded in 1788 by the first Rebbe of the Lubavitcher Chassidic movement, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, also known as the Alter Rebbe, with the goal of supporting the welfare needs of the community in the Holy Land. The social-welfare institution has been operating in Israel for the past 226 years.
One of the primary mandates of Colel Chabad has always been to help the poor regardless of religious background, gender, or age. The Colel works with the social services departments of municipal governments throughout Israel to help identify and screen those who are in need, while also providing services to them.
The Colel Chabad runs assistance programs for widows and orphans, providing food, clothing and social services for close to 300 widows and more than 600 orphans annually. Tutors and social workers help monitor the child’s education and development while career counseling, training, and loans are set up to provide assistance for the child’s parent or guardian.
Other Colel Chabad activities include organizing mass bar mitzvahs for orphans annually and providing weddings for the poor. During the winters, in cold places like Tsfat or Jerusalem, Colel Chabad provides heaters, kerosene, and blankets.
In addition, Colel Chabad works with the IDF during times of war and peace to distribute army surplus food and participate in emergency food distribution.
As the largest charitable organization of its kind in Israel, Colel Chabad works to find solutions to the challenges that the less fortunate face in Israel. “The vision of Colel Chabad is to look beyond the instant solutions in charity but to find ways that will have a lasting impact upon those in need,” says Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad.
Speaking about the Hanukkah retreat, Rabbi Traxler believes that the impact of this particular program is everlasting. “This program is a realization of the understanding that by giving strength to people at a particularly difficult time of the calendar, they can gain a heightened ability to cope and confront the challenges that they face throughout the year.”