Fighting Poverty


With the latest Israeli statistics indicating a surge in poverty and a record number of children who go to sleep hungry, the head of Boys Town Jerusalem’s massive food services department is proud of the school’s ability to provide hearty, nutritious meals for students. Yet Mrs. Tova Rottenberg, director of the department, views the emotional aspects of her work as being quite vital as well.

The Boys Town Jerusalem kitchen is one of the few Israeli educational institutions to prepare and serve three fresh, nutritious meals daily for students and staff. This commitment involves the preparation of nearly 3,000 meals daily at a cost of $7000 per day on food alone. Tova is personally responsible for planning and overseeing the purchase of food products for the school’s such everyday needs as 2,337 eggs, 220 pounds of potatoes, 330 pounds of meat, 120 loaves of bread, and much, much more. Yet her passion each school day is to greet every student as she personally serves him his main course, and then to circulate throughout the lunchroom to make sure that “her boys” are all eating well.

“You learn to feel their needs,” she explained. “These children all crave warmth, and I must discover which boys aren’t eating because they’re troubled, or which ones require several helpings of food to subsist. If I weren’t with them, I’d never understand their needs. A woman feels a child’s heart…”

Tova Rottenberg, who begins her workday at 6:30 AM and never takes a day off (“if I missed a day, I’d have to work twice as hard later”), was trained for her job by the first legendary head of the kitchen, her mother Rabbanit Yocheved Linchner. Tova’s own office features a prominent photo of her grandfather Rabbi Alexander Linchner, the founder of Boys Town Jerusalem. “He’s watching to make sure we carry out his commitment to the students,” she smiles.

Tova gives full credit to the cooking staff for the smooth operation of the multifaceted BTJ kitchen. “Our chef, Avi Chamal, is an invaluable asset, as is his crew of five cooks. Their devotion to the boys is boundless.” Tova emphasizes that the students take part in kitchen chores as well. “This school is like their home, and they need to do their share.

“We’re well aware that these meals are the only food that many of our students will receive. Their homes are empty. We are truly involved in a lifesaving mission,” Tova admits.

BTJ’s resident social worker Rivka Hakakian vigorously concurs. “It’s impossible to overestimate the value of three meals a day for a student’s success and wellbeing.”

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