Alumnus Joseph Gitler Combats Poverty in Israel

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Alumnus Joseph Gitler Combats Poverty in Israel

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(PHOTO COURTESY OF LUKE CUSUMANO)

By MARIA ISHIDA
Staff Writer

Presently, a Fordham Law School (FLS) graduate is providing food for the surprising number of undernourished people in his adopted home of Israel. Joseph Gitler is the founder and chairman of Leket Israel, the largest food bank and food rescue network in the country. With the help of 55,000 annual volunteers, Leket collects and provides over two million meals annually. “I am very privileged that I was able to come here and handle the issue successfully,” Gitler explained.  

Gitler immigrated to Israel with his family in 2000. He was shocked to learn how much food was being wasted, while hunger and poverty were growing in Israel. Even today, Gitler’s shock continues to grow.

Officially, Gitler first began distributing food by using his own car with a home refrigerator. Leket Israel was founded in 2003 and helps impoverished people throughout the country, regardless of their age, gender, ethnic background or religion. They run several projects, including Sandwiches for Kids, which was launched in 2006. There are 850,000 children suffering from hunger in Israel, and many of them have to go to school without sufficient meals. In order to help feed these children, volunteers make and distribute 7,500-8,000 sandwiches every morning in 40 cities.

In March of 2016, Gitler received the country’s prestigious Yigal Alon Prize for his significant impact against hunger. “It is really special for me,” he expressed, “because it is not an award specifically given to an immigrant, but it is given to people living in the country, who have done something pioneering.”

Even though Gitler now takes the leading role in food issues, it is not something he had imagined himself doing when he was a Fordham student. “I was pretty young,” he said. “I went straight from college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life.”

Gitler has been living in Israel ever since he immigrated with his wife and five children in 2000. Despite the tense political environment, he finds Israel an exciting place to live. “In many ways, it’s very complicated [in the] Middle East,” he said. “But that makes life very exciting. You never know what is coming next here, good or bad.”

Today, one in five citizens are living below the poverty line in Gitler’s adopted home. Yet, at the same time, about 35 percent of food is being wasted in Israel. “If we could just rescue 25 percent of that food, about 600,000 tons, we would not be hearing of anyone being hungry in Israel,” he said.  

Looking back on the early days, Gitler found that Israel was culturally very different from the United States. He initially struggled with the language, but has since become much more comfortable speaking Hebrew. Gitler faces some major challenges today. “There are so many more people in need than we are able to serve,” he said. Moreover, Gitler has to decide which agency to work with and how much food to give them. “It’s really difficult for us to figure that out,” he explained. “There is no right answer.”

Gitler is continuing to work towards achieving that goal. He aims to distribute 50,000 tons of food per year by 2020. This would make Leket Israel one of the largest food providers and charities in the world. “That is pretty amazing considering the size of Israel, which is around the size of New Jersey,” he said. “[It’s a] very small country, and it gets more attention when you hear how big it is.”

The FLS degree can be used in many ways. Gitler’s example serves as a reminder that each of us can make a positive impact on this world. Gitler has big ambitions for the good he can do. He said, “possibilities are endless, don’t let anything stop you.”

For more information on Lekel Israel, check out their website.

http://leket.org.il/English/Israel