TRAVEL: Is­rael’s Food Bank

An in­ter­view with the man who is sav­ing Is­rael’s left­overs.

Forward Magazine - - News - By Liza Schoen­fein

Funny how things hap­pen: For­ward Editor-inChief Jane Eis­ner sent me an email a while back, ask­ing if I had any in­ter­est in cov­er­ing an Is­raeli not-for-profit called Leket Is­rael, the coun­try’s largest food bank and food-res­cue net­work. She had got­ten word that its founder, Joseph Gitler, was in town that week for a se­ries of meet­ings.

I quickly shot back a re­ply say­ing that yes, I would love to. I ex­plained that I hap­pened to be friends with Gitler’s brother, Avi, who owns an art gallery in my neighor­hood. As I told Jane, Joseph and Avi’s mom, Susie, made me mushroom-bar­ley soup when I was sick last sum­mer. I love this fam­ily — but I had never met Joseph.

That week, I had a long talk with Joseph Gitler. My in­ter­view is tran­scribed below.

Then the other day I got an email from Leket Is­rael with the sub­ject line “Purim Sameach from Joseph Gitler.” The mes­sage read:

Dear Liza, A Mishloach Manot do­na­tion has been made to Leket Is­rael in your honor by: Joseph Gitler

Wish­ing you and your fam­ily a happy, healthy, and joy­ful hol­i­day.

Chag Purim Sameach, Joseph.

The email ex­plained that the con­tri­bu­tion helped en­able Leket Is­rael to con­tinue pro­vid­ing res­cued food to Is­rael’s needy.

What a good idea. Rather than run­ning around with bas­kets of good­ies for friends and fam­ily, why not spend a few min­utes on­line, in ef­fect send­ing food to those who need it most?

Read on to get to know Joseph Gitler and learn about the work of Leket Is­rael. LIZA SCHOEN­FEIN: You re­cently came out with the re­sults of a study (with BDO Con­sult­ing Group) that found that $4.5 bil­lion worth of food goes to waste in Is­rael. You have al­ready been work­ing on this prob­lem for a long time. Is the prob­lem get­ting worse? If so, why?

JOSEPH GITLER: Leket has grown, and some of the projects that we’re known for have gone well be­yond what we ex­pected them to be. But frankly, af­ter this re­port we just com­mis­sioned I see that we are so much smaller as a piece of the puz­zle than even I imag­ined.

I’m blown away by the num­bers. I was well aware of the poverty num­bers and of 35–40% of the food go­ing to waste. But when we trans­lated that into num­bers? What’s the ton­nage? What’s the eco­nomic im­pact of that? Now that we have those num­bers, I don’t even know where to be­gin.

What are you do­ing dif­fer­ently or in

ad­di­tion as a re­sult of the find­ings?

So I think there are two parts to your ques­tion. Num­ber one is in re­la­tion to poverty, and two is in re­la­tion to food and food waste. You can have one with­out the other. Un­for­tu­nately they’re gen­er­ally not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. When it comes to poverty, the stats in Is­rael have re­mained fairly con­sis­tent. Maybe they’ve gone down a bit. The num­bers are so large that it re­ally doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence. Whether it’s 15% of the pop­u­la­tion or 20%, it’s a very big num­ber. We’re not even get­ting close. How big do we need to be? The poverty statis­tic is pretty steady, but I don’t pay much at­ten­tion to that. As much as we’re do­ing, it’s not com­ing close to what the need is. I’m just do­ing as much as I can.

When it comes to food waste, over the past few years as an is­sue it’s much more on peo­ple’s list. There’s so much more talk about food waste and its im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. And we’re see­ing so many ini­tia­tives, world­wide, whether it was Davos, where two things came out: The Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion is go­ing to be get­ting into this more than they ever have in the past, and the big govern­ment thing, which made this pro­nounce­ment that they’re go­ing to try to lower food waste by 50%.

We want the Is­raeli govern­ment to come for­ward with th­ese kinds of bold pro­nounce­ments. If the fed­eral govern­ment says


An Is­raeli ‘Banker’: Joseph Gitler is founder of Leket Is­rael, the coun­try’s largest food bank and food-res­cue net­work.

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