Israel's booming high-tech industry has placed the country atop the world's lists of innovation and investments, behind the U.S. and trailing the United Kingdom only by a bit. As the sector accounts for a growing chunk of Israel's GNP, a new class of wealthy Israelis has emerged among software engineers, code writers, marketing gurus, and investors.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of Israel's rapidly growing high-tech sector is a commensurate growth in the inequitable distribution of wealth. Simply put, while there are many new (and very young) millionaires in the country, the gaps between their economic level and that of the middle and lower classes is growing at a worrying pace. The cost of living puts Tel Aviv at the very top of the most expensive cities in the world, making housing in Tel Aviv and elsewhere unaffordable for all but a few.
In light of the rising cost of living, there is a growing wave of protest against the cost of imported goods, specifically: food and toiletries, which can reach prices as high as three times more than in European markets; gasoline which, because of government taxes, costs around $8 per gallon; and cars which carry a 100% tax.
Osem, a major food producer, recently announced it was going to raise its pasta prices. The public outcry was so loud that the company announced it would pause its price hike until after Passover, and when that didn't silence the criticisms, announced they would not raise prices at all this year. The public clamor worked.
In order to put additional pressure on food importers as well as local producers, one popular late night TV show launched a new initiative: a 45 shekel "alternative food package," providing basic staples of lesser-known brands at less than half the cost of imported pasta, flour, oil, and more.
The show is using its high ratings and social media to convince people to order the alternative food box online and save money, thereby "punishing" food importers and large retail stores. The initiative is sweeping the country. The hope is to sell at least 100,000 alternative food packages, and force retailers, importers, and food producers to lower their prices.
And now, some social activists decided to combine two powerful initiatives. They opened a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to purchase the "alternative food package," and donate it to SAHI a long-time recipient of JUF support. The plan is for thousands of Israelis to donate an alternative package (roughly $14), which will then be handed over to SAHI's teen volunteers who will distribute the packages to families in need.
SAHI, founded a decade ago with a JUF seed grant in our Partnership Together city of Kiryat Gat, empowers at-risk teens by providing them with food packages, which they distribute weekly to families in need in the neighborhoods. The act of helping others has a long-lasting and impactful effect on the teens, converting them from at-risk youth to strong, empowered, and productive members of society. It teaches them the value of giving and volunteering, while at the same time enabling thousands of families to receive weekly free food packages.
In this way, two social initiatives are cooperating to achieve much greater goals-a social movement grows to combat spiraling food prices, thousands of families in need will receive free or discounted food packages, and at-risk Sahi youth will receive food packages to distribute on their weekly route.
Sometimes, one plus one really does equal more than two. JUF is proud of its initial and on-going support of SAHI, an organization that is making a difference for thousands of families and is now part of a national movement to lower the cost of living for all Israelis.
Ofer Bavly is the Director General of the JUF Israel Office.