Displaced October 7 survivors are given places at the Shabbat table

Volunteers from both the UK and Israel are helping to fund and organise Friday night meals


A Shabbat table for displaced families

Hundreds of Israelis who were displaced on October 7 have been enjoying Friday night dinners, thanks to the joint efforts of philanthropic friends based in northwest London and Tel Aviv.

Esther Tager, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, north-west London, is working with her friend and former neighbour Helen Bender, who now lives in Tel Aviv, to raise funds for free communal meals. Also supporting the project is Pam Blustin from Radlett, who has another home in the same Tel Aviv neighbourhood as Helen.

Esther said: “It’s a wonderful project. It creates a sense of being cared for and helps give [the attendees] a sense of personal identity and belonging.

“The meals, which are prepared by the local community, provide a vital sense of dignity, enabling [the guests] to relinquish the label ‘mefunim’ (‘evacuees’), which erodes their individuality.”

The original project started with volunteers from Helen’s syngaogue, Kehilat Haslat, making food for soldiers and evolved to incorporate Friday night dinners for those forced to leave behind their homes in the Gaza Envelope.

The meals now attract 150 to 200 guests every week, consisting of families from the south and north and 50 survivors from the Nova music festival. If needed, Kehilat Haslat’s rabbi, Zvi Horwitz, arranges overnight accommodation with local hosts.

Shul members help by making food, arranging flowers and, initially, approaching local shopkeepers to donate produce.

But after 11 weeks of dinners, shopkeepers were struggling to donate items for free. Undeterred, the volunteers decided to keep the project going by finding ways to reduce costs. Nevertheless, it still costs £2,600 per week for guests to have the opportunity to sit down for a catered meal.

Helen, who is a child psychotherapist, working with children traumatised from the attacks, said: “The dinners give the displaced families a sense of community. [Once] we started them, the full extent of the therapeutic value of the dinners was seen.

“We host so many people from the religious to the secular, wealthy farmers and those form poorer towns. ” She said people who normally wouldn’t meet one another were gradually building up trust. “They are there for the long run.”

The meals have been well received by the guests, said Helen. “One of the kids who survived the Nova festival, said: ‘These Friday nights help me more than seeing my psychiatrist every day since the 7th’”.

“Another woman, who has left her home in Ashkelon, said: ‘Finally: a quiet Shabbat, full of positive emotion.’”

To find out more or to donate, contact Pam Blustin:

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