For members of the Jewish community in need, religious holidays can prove particularly difficult. The observance of High Holidays in the Jewish tradition calls for particular foods, and upholding religious commitments can be out of reach for many of those most in need. The Jewish community in Chicagoland, however, has a partner in Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago, a nonprofit organization that has been helping Jews in need for more than a century.
In 1908, Chicago’s synagogues were beginning to struggle to provide for the neediest members of the Jewish community during the Passover holiday. Maot Chitim was founded in order to distribute Passover food packages to those in need, a practice that continued as Chicago’s Jewish community grew exponentially over the years. Five hundred families received assistance in 1972, and this number ballooned to 3,500 in 1994. Today, the organization feeds some 12,000 people on Passover and other High Holidays through individual donations and partnering charities. In addition to delivering food packages, Maot Chitim has also focused on providing fellowship, with volunteers acting as a bridge to the wider community as well as food deliverers. They are encouraged to sit and stay a while with each recipient, and graciously accept offers of a cup of tea or cookie as “payment” for the package.
Maot Chitim attributes its success to the wider Chicago Jewish community and partners with organizations like The Ark, Shalva, and the Council for Jewish Elderly, among others, to identify households most in need of its services. Thanks to the wider community of charities across Chicago, Maot Chitim has expanded its services, and has even reached out to Jewish prisoners and several community food pantries and other charitable organizations. Maot Chitim depends on its hundreds of volunteers, as well as donors from the community, to meet its philanthropic goals, as less than 40% of its funding comes from grants.