Lev UNeshama Safed Charity
|Heart and Soul, Reaching Out in Safed|
|Organization providing a wide range of services to disadvantaged individuals and families in Tzfat, Israel.|
Lev U'Neshama is a charitable organization that aims to help poor families in Tzfat. Authorities in Safed estimate that over one-third of the population in the city is living below the poverty line. This includes new immigrants, veteran Israelis, families where one or both parents are unemployed, single-parent families, elderly, disabled and even families where both parents work. The crushing burden of feeding and clothing a household in an area where cost-of-living expenses are high can be overwhelming.
“Lev U’Neshama” -- Heart and Soul -- was created in 2001 by a group of English-speaking residents of Safed who decided to do their part to ease the burden faced by poverty-stricken residents of the city. Moshe and Yaffa Smolensky together with Rena Cohen established Lev U’Neshama when they heard about an elderly woman who, a concerned neighbor related, was buying baby formula for herself because she couldn’t afford the high cost of regular food.
As the years went by the Smolenskys and Cohen conducted active fund-raising campaigns among Safed residents as well as their old friends and acquaintances in the United States. This fund-raising has provided the opportunity to allow them to offer assistance to needy Tzfat residents. The staff of Lev U’Neshama worked without compensation as they continued to identify community and individual needs and expanded Lev U’Neshama’s budget and activities to meet these needs.
The basis of Lev U’Neshama is its food program which provides food coupons to dozens of disadvantaged Tzfat families and needy individuals. The coupons may be redeemed for fruits, vegetables and other healthy food items. Lev U’Neshama has an arrangement with a small independent grocery which gives these coupons, allowing Lev U’Neshama to support a small local business at the same time as they provide food assistance. The eyeglass program works in the same manner, providing discounted services through a local participating optician who gives Lev U’Neshama clients a free eye exam and a discount on the cost of eyeglasses. Families may obtain discounted shoes through the Lev U’Neshama shoe program which, in conjunction with a local shoe shop, allows families to obtain shoes at cost for their children. One of the most attractive elements of the shoe program is that the store invites the children to come in and select their own shoes from the stock “just like everyone else.” The parents present the store owner with the Lev U’Neshama coupon and the children are unaware that their shoes were purchased “differently” from any others.
Lev U’Neshama’s flagship “G’mach” -- used clothing shop -- is located in the Cana’an neighborhood of Safed. The small shop is open three days every week and provides a wide range of quality clothing to all residents of the city. While many needy people buy clothing there because of the low prices -- approximately one dollar per item -- other more established Safed residents purchase clothing and other small items at the shop because they are aware that all of the proceeds go towards supporting Lev U’Neshama’s food program. A local woman works in the shop for a salary, but the organizers and coordinators, including Yaffa and Moshe Smolensky and Rena Cohen, who solicit the clothing donations from around the world, receive no salary or other compensation.
 Discretionary Program
A small fund exists at Lev U’Neshama for special needs. This discretionary fund is administered by Lev U’Neshama administrators who, when possible, grant assistance to individuals who need help with medical or dental bills, home repairs or other emergency expenses.
 Soldiers’ Fund
The Tzfat hospital, Rivka Ziv, cares for hundreds of soldiers each month. These soldiers are stationed along Israel’s northern border and come to the hospital when they are wounded, sick, suffering from broken bones or experience health issues. The soldiers generally come to the hospital straight from their base and don’t have any toiletries or personal items to tide them over until a family member arrives or until they return to their base. Lev U’Neshama provides them with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving items and other personal items that give the soldiers a feeling that Safed is their “home away from home.”
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War Yaffa and Moshe Smolensky remained in Tzfat, under missile attack, in order to ensure that Lev U’Neshama continued to function. The senior citizen couple coped with the increased need for services and assistance from the residents who were stranded in the town. Overwhelmingly, residents who had financial resources, cars and places of refuge had left Safed, leaving the most vulnerable citizens in the town to manage. Many of these people lived on the edge during the best of times, and when the war began, any support systems that they had beforehand vanished.
Lev U’Neshama helped sustain hundreds of these individuals and families, keeping them supplied with basic food supplies and other necessities throughout the month-long conflict.
 Assistance for New Immigrants
Lev U’Neshama is a major source of support for the new Ethiopian immigrants who live in Safed during their initial two years of absorption. Safed maintains three Ethiopian Absorption Centers where the new immigrants, consisting of several hundred families who arrive each year, live upon their aliyah to Israel. During this period the children begin to study in Israeli schools while the adults learn Hebrew and Jewish studies in an Ulpan. Living in the Absorption Center cushions their arrival until they get on their feet and are able to find their own housing and employment.
The Absorption Ministry provides the immigrants’ basic needs but the initial absorption basket that families receive lacks many necessities. Lev U’Neshama fills in whenever possible, providing the families with clothing and shoes from the g’mach and, when possible, assistance from the eyeglass and discretionary funds.