April 12th 2005
HOPE ALONG THE AISLESby Steven Elkaim
Whether with empty pockets or full, all clients are welcome at TIKVA MARKET, a supermarket where generosity is on sale all year round. This is a small story about a utopia that turned into reality.
TIKVA MARKET, located on Katzenellenbogen Street in Jerusalem, is a supermarket like any other. And that is actually the key to its success.
The housewives push their shopping carts around the store, filling them with goods just like in any other supermarket. The only difference with competing shops occurs at the cashier. Regular clients pay the amount due for their shopping as they would anywhere else, but others hand in discretely a card entitling them to pay only 10% of the total bill.
This ground-breaking approach was envisioned in January by Edouard-Chaim Knopfer, president of the charitable organization TIKVA MARKET: “For the needy the act of stretching out one’s hand for food is extremely humiliating. But the feeling of being socially excluded disappears when one can stroll along the aisles like anyone else, freely choosing one’s products.”
It may be an innovative system, but for Edouard-Chaim Knopfer it would be unthinkable to do it any other way.
This Frenchman of 39, who made aliya in 2001, was immediately struck by the distress affecting many of his new countrymen. Together with a couple of volunteers he started distributing food packages for the most destitute, with the financial support of donors from abroad.
But although this form of assistance was extremely important, shortcomings in the system were quickly revealed. “Besides the feeling of embarrassment felt by those who came to pick up their parcel, we realized that standardized boxes with identical contents did not always meet the needs of the individual. For example a family needs diapers for its baby unlike a single person or someone elderly.”
Social workers of TIKVA MARKET work in cooperation with the social services of the Jerusalem municipality in order to seek out people in distress and get the best possible picture of their financial situation. One week after this inquiry, which is made in absolute confidentiality, the families receive the famous card entitling them to a discount and defining a maximum purchase amount, depending on the number of members in the household.
Thus a family with three children and no income benefits from a discount of 90% up to a monthly amount of 1500 NIS.
There are currently 350 families – that is 1800 adults and children – who benefit from the services provided by TIKVA MARKET. This assistance is given for a limited period of six months, in order to avoid getting them caught in the charity trap: “We inform people right at the start that this assistance is short-term. We want them to realize that a line has been thrown to them, and that this can help them ride out the rough times they are going through.”
The president continues: “It is important to realize that people can suddenly find themselves thrown into a totally unforeseeable crisis, such as losing a job or the loss of the financial pillar of the family. During such times, support is crucial as it prevents them from plunging into poverty.”
In order to ensure that this idea would be translated into practice, Hayim Knopfer utilized the practical experience he had gained as an administrator before moving to Israel and devoting himself to the deprived.
That is how we came to see two teams of five volunteers each taking turns on the phone every other day from 8 a.m. until 23 p.m., appealing to the generosity of donators worldwide. TIKVA MARKET currently has a dozen active members.
But the numbers could easily swell: the reputation of the association has passed far beyond the borders of Jerusalem.
The municipalities of Netanya and Ashdod are seriously interested not only in the Tikva Market but also in other projects. “The needs are tremendous, Edouard-Hayim Knopfer notes. “I would obviously prefer to have a minimum number of customers, but for the time being that is not yet the case …” admits this incurable optimist.
Besides workshops on household management and budgeting, the association is presently working on adapting the TIKVA MARKET concept to housing.
Families without a roof over their head will be able to receive an apartment for 100 days for a modest sum.
With a smile on his face, Edouard-Chaim Knopfer confides that this project is well on its way, and insists on giving due respect to the donators “without whom nothing would be possible.”
As for him, he declares that since his arrival in Israel, he is a different person:
“Previously, I used to think only about myself”.
Tikva Market or Supermarkets of Hope
We are honored to welcome Edouard-Chaim Knopfer, president of the charitable organization “TIKVA MARKET” - “Supermarkets of Hope”.
So what is different about this new type of supermarket?
The goal of the " TIKVA MARKET " is to enable the most destitute people to do their shopping in their local store, and allow them to purchase what they really need at significantly reduced prices.
When you say "reduced prices", what do you mean?
The neediest families have to pay only 10% of the marked prices, i.e. they receive a discount of 90%.
For example a chicken costs 2 shekel (50 cents), a package of macaroni 0.50 shekel (0.15 cents), one liter of oil 0.50 shekel (0.15 cents) …
Why do you not just offer them the food?
Our way ensures that when entering a "Tikva Market" the most needy people
regain their dignity and from feeling socially excluded transform into a regular customer.
The act of stretching out one's hand for food is one of the most humiliating trials for a human being.
This way, one who previously used to lower his eyes when receiving food, can now do his shopping, pacing the aisles up and down with his shopping cart, just like any other person.
These mini-markets are located right off the streets, allowing anyone to enter …!
That is true, but only the truly needy families receive these special discounts.
The other customers pay 100% of the marked price.
The very fact that they are accessible to all, besides financing the cause itself, ensures that the Tikva Market will not be known as a place set aside for the poor alone, like soup kitchens.
On the contrary, it is a place of mixing and interaction, where rich and poor come together.
How do you know which family is truly needy?
In order to avoid any abuse or unjustified support, social workers are asked to make inquiries in the neighborhood and investigate very thoroughly when they visit the family.
However, while it is important not to give unjustified assistance, it remains of the utmost importance to locate those who out of diffidence or fear do not make their needs felt.
And this is where the municipality comes into the picture. The social services pass on to us information about their most critical cases.
How does this work in practice?
It is all done with the utmost discretion. Two weeks after the inquiry, the needy family receives a card entitling it to a discount up to a specified amount of
money, depending on to their financial situation and the number of family members.
For example, a family with 3 children and no income, receives a discount of 90% for a monthly amount of 1,500 shekels.
This ensures that the family will have the means to purchase their basic food requirements, including meat, flour, oil, rice, macaroni, sugar …
Does this assistance have a time limit?
Yes, this assistance is given for a period of six months only, as we aim to truly help them, not to increase their dependence on charity.
Many of the families with whom we deal with were left totally helpless and confused due to a traumatic incident such as losing a job or the loss of the financial pillar of the family.
During these non-foreseeable and crucial times, short-term assistance would often have prevented a family from plunging into poverty and social exclusion.
Where did this purely Israeli invention originate from?
While distributing food packages, which is how we originally began, we detected two problems. The first was the humiliation experienced by those who came to get their packages.
Furthermore the contents of the standardized packages that we prepared did not always suit the individual needs of each recipient.
The needs of a family with children are not the same as those of an elderly person suffering from diabetes.
Where does the funding for the 90% discount come from?
We call upon the generosity of donators in the Diaspora, and especially the Jews in France (???), who always answer readily to our appeals and deserve once more our heartfelt thanks.
Our simple request to each and every Jew is for an act of solidarity towards those who no longer know to whom they can turn.
Are you aware of the fact that a donation of 50 Euros can enable a family with two children to provide themselves with food for an entire week – isn’t that astounding!
Is TIKVA MARKET backed by well-known figures?
Of course, without that it would be impossible to undertake anything – neither fund-raising nor allocating the funds. Amongst those who have supported us from the very beginning I must mention the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Shlomo Amar, the president of the Council of Sages Rav Ovadia Yossef, the great halachic authority Rav Moshe Halberstam, the Rishon Letzion Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, and amongst others also the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Mr. Shlomo Attias …
Our fund-raising branches located in France and the United States will automatically issue tax exemption receipts for every donation.
If you could have one wish, what would it be?
To have no more customers!