Charity head: 'We need a bigger state'

By Jessica Elgot, December 2, 2010
Rabbi Abraham israel at the London fundraiser

Rabbi Abraham israel at the London fundraiser

An Israeli philanthropist has complained that charities are expected to pull people out of poverty while the British and Israeli governments look to shirk the responsibility.

Rabbi Abraham Israel founded charitable network Hazon Yeshaya 15 years ago, after making aliyah from the US. It runs soup kitchens serving 400,000 meals a month and administers Israel's only free vocational courses. He was in London for the fundraising dinner for Hazon Yeshaya's British supporters.

His clients are category A, identified by the government as the most impoverished. They include Holocaust survivors, discharged soldiers and single mothers and range from the strictly Orthodox to Arabs and Christians.

"I should not be doing what I'm doing. This is the government's responsibility. I lose donations because donors believe it should be the Government's job and they don't want to pay for it. But I always say it's like watching a child in the middle of the street when a truck is heading for it, with the parents not watching. We grab the kid."

Rabbi Israel said: "the UK welfare scheme at the moment makes a lot of sense, that people are offered jobs and must actively seek work while on welfare. But it's still the government's responsibility to give people opportunities.

"The people we train on our courses have no qualifications, they've never worked. Some are battered wives, single mothers with husbands in jail. For the strictly Orthodox in particular, the party is over, there are no more handouts coming to Israel. We give them free vocational training in hairdressing, cosmetics, sewing, secretarial work. And we have an 85 per cent success rate."

He dismissed the notion of a culture of idleness which welfare reform needed to shake up. "These people are desperate to get out. Boy, are they dedicated? They come to the courses dead on time. They know this is their last chance."

Retired from a successful business career, he experienced desperate poverty in his youth. "I was born in Egypt and we had to run for our lives after the Suez War. It took us three-and-a-half years living as refugees in France to get a visa to the US. We couldn't work, we didn't speak the language and we ate in soup kitchens. It had a tremendous impact on me."

He insists that those on benefits would always prefer a stable job. "When you see a person doing nothing, you think they are lazy. That's unfair.

"My family didn't enjoy waiting with our hands out to get the meal. There is not one human that likes to receive a welfare cheque. But they can't pay to train to do a job."

Last updated: 1:29pm, December 2 2010