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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 10 Apr 2020 05:41 PM and ends Sat 11 Apr 2020 06:40 PM

A bris and a burning home - charity support family in crisis

י' טבת ה' אלפים תשס"ט



Standing outside the burning ruins of her home in country Victoria, Ilana contemplated how to deal with yet another challenge in her life.

Just hours earlier, she had been referred to the Melbourne Jewish Charity Fund (“MJCF”). Her one year old child, David, was booked into a Melbourne hospital for his Bris. The circumcision had not been possible when David was born as a result of illness. Whilst the doctors involved in this procedure were prepared to accommodate her financial incapacity, the theatre fee also needed to be paid, and Ilana simply couldn’t afford it. She had turned to some of the better known institutional charities who were unable to assist her. One organisation told her that their funds were depleted and she should try again in December.  

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A phone call to the MJCF and a brief discussion with its social worker brought her the relief she needed. With minimal fuss, the “Fund” committed to covering the cost of the operation which was confirmed for the following Monday.  However, on Sunday one of Ilana’s children lit a fire in the back of the house. The autistic child had somehow got hold of a box of matches and within minutes the weather board house was alight. Ilana and her children escaped safely but all their possessions were destroyed.  Fortunately for Ilana, the MJCF again provided Ilana with a financial lifeline, this time offering crisis rent relief and funds for clothing and food.  

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Although a unique set of circumstances, this vignette is symptomatic of the plethora of challenges that constantly confront the MJCF - a virtually unheard of organisation that distributes a staggering $700,000 per annum in welfare to hundreds of Jewish individuals and families in Melbourne.  The raison detre’ of the Fund is to restore basic dignity to those in the Jewish community who have none – that restoration is achieved through the provision of food vouchers, rent utilities, crisis support and medical needs.  Addressing the root causes of communal poverty is absolutely pivotal, but according to Harvey Teller AOM, a member of the MJCF Board, “someone needs to be there when that eviction notice is served to the single Jewish mother of three children on a Friday afternoon”.  In recent years, and on many more occasions than not, that “someone” is the MJCF.

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The MJCF is not affiliated with any particular local institution.  It is run by a group of volunteer laypeople and has achieved its impressive level of donor support due to the quality of its work and the fact that over 95c in every donor dollar is directly applied to recipient needs.  Demands on the Fund have grown fivefold in recent years as traditional sources of communal welfare support have dissipated.

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Meanwhile, with the assistance of the MJCF, Ilana hopes to move into temporary housing until the Department of Human Services addresses the family’s long term accommodation needs.

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