Possibly one of the best-kept secrets in Israel is the existence of the formidable charitable association of Reuth. Reuth is the Hebrew word for friendship and that certainly sums up the philosophy of the organisation.
I’ve been living in Israel for almost 50 years and didn’t know of the organisation’s existence, though I was acquainted with Beit Bart, a home providing sheltered accommodation for the elderly that Reuth has established in Jerusalem. But Beit Bart is just the tip of the iceberg, as I found out recently when I visited Reuth’s impressive Medical Center in Tel Aviv. In addition to this well-equipped hospital, which provides a wide variety of medical services and care using state-of-the-art equipment, the organisation has sheltered accommodation in Tel Aviv (Beit Shalom) as well as providing subsidised housing in the form of purpose-built studio apartments (Beit Bracha, Beit Achva), also in Tel Aviv.
The origins of the organisation lie in the early 1930s with the arrival in pre-State Israel of the first immigrants from Central Europe, Germany in particular. Some of those who came at that time were able to bring financial and material resources with them, enabling many of the women to give their time and energy to charitable causes. This, after all, had constituted an important aspect of community life in Germany and the ethos of helping those less fortunate and serving the community continued to play an important part in the lives of many of those immigrants. Thus, a group of ladies organised themselves as ‘Women’s Social Service’, setting themselves the aim of serving the elderly, the needy and the chronically ill.
They began by establishing a soup kitchen for impoverished refugees from Hitler’s Germany and extended this to cater for all immigrants. The commemorative volume published in Hebrew to mark its seventieth anniversary in 2007 contains fascinating photographs showing women dressed in the height of 1930s European fashion (hats mandatory, of course) meeting to discuss the needs and aims of the organisation.
Other pictures show the same women, now wearing more practical garb, toiling over enormous cooking pots, as well as those enormous cooking pots being hauled by muscular men down to the beach where the ships unloaded immigrants arriving in the Land of Israel. The objective was to feed the hungry as soon as they stepped off the boats. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of those early activities were conducted in German as the notice above the first soup kitchen reads ‘Küche, Sozialer Frauendienst, Kosher Rabbinatsaufssicht’ alongside the Hebrew lettering.
Among the myriad other charitable activities in which they engaged, the ladies of Reuth raised funds to lease land in Tel Aviv, commissioned architects and building constructors, and erected several apartment blocks containing small, but well-planned studio apartments that were provided to needy tenants who paid a nominal rent. Originally, all the tenants were Holocaust survivors, though today they constitute only 40 per cent of the residents. These apartments are still functioning in their original capacity though they are in need of constant renovation due to their age.
Today, the Reuth Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which started out as a convalescent home, is a fully-fledged hospital with a large number of employees. It has a special department for treating eating disorders, extensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy departments, rehabilitation and chronic care wards, and the only facility in Israel that combines respiratory care with dialysis. The hospital is about to build an extensive addition, which will greatly increase its current 350-bed capacity. In addition, Reuth’s Norma Center offers follow-up care on an out-patient basis.
Everything Reuth does is imbued with the spirit of the organisation’s original mission - to provide services in a warm and caring atmosphere, paying attention to getting every last detail right, maintaining an aesthetic environment and, above all, giving those who require their services a feeling of being wanted, loved and understood. Care is not limited to any one segment of the population and, walking through the corridors of the hospital, one comes across representatives of every segment of contemporary Israeli society.
Reuth enjoys the support and fund-raising activities of its friends all over the world, especially in England, the Netherlands and the USA. Many of those who are active in these associations have family or other connections with the original founders, continuing the tradition of aid for the less fortunate.