Sharon Hoffer and the two little wooden boxes which she painted for the suspended coffee scheme
So it's true. I admit it. I spend way too much time on Facebook. But unlike what non-users think, there is a lot of good that can come from that medium. For example, I have been able to make contact with a cousin whom I didn't even know existed. Yes, it is somewhat voyeuristic, but I love seeing the photos of my cousin's grandchildren and what old schoolmates are up to. Without Facebook, I would have to rely on occasional visits in order to see a granny album. Sometimes it can be extremely annoying reading what everyone and their dog had for breakfast, but heck, you can scroll past the irritating bits.
So there I was, scrolling my way through Facebook, when I came across a post about something called "suspended coffee". The idea is that a restaurant patron can order himself a coffee or a sandwich and "suspend" one for a complete stranger. A hungry person can enter the store and ask the waiters if there are any suspended meals available, and if there are any, then he or she is free to have one, no questions asked.
To me this sounded like a wonderful idea. I learned that the head office of the operation is in Ireland and that they have over 2,000 registered restaurants around the world. Naturally, the first thing I did was to search in order to see if there were any restaurants listed in Israel. Unfortunately there were not. "Okay then", I said to myself, "let's make this happen".
I approached the owners of a coffee shop in Raanana who agreed to try the idea.Then, alas, they changed their minds. I was told that I was a foreigner and I had no idea how the locals would take advantage of such a system. Now, despite what the rest of the world might think, I believe that there is every reason to have faith in my fellow Israelis. So ... onwards ….
What to do when you are thwarted? You need to search out someone who knows everyone. Thankfully, as is frequently the case, that person happened to be my hairdresser. "Itzik," I said, "Who is going to give me a break?" Itzik directed me to his friend Shachar across the road at Tabun Haneviim, 79 Ahuza Street, Raanana. The Tabun is a bakery/restaurant. That is exactly what I did. I repeated what Itzik had said I should say, namely: "Shachar, Itzik sent me. He says that you have to agree to this idea because if you do you will get the support of all the South Africans and other Anglos in Raanana." Shachar replied, "Sure, I would be happy to." And so we got started.
I bought two little wooden boxes with see-through front sections from Muzalim, and I painted them. I bought a stack of paper notelets and I created a couple of flyers to attach to the entrance of the store, and we were all set. Then it was back to good old Facebook to get the word out. My personal friends were the guinea pigs. I asked what they thought of the idea and I received a warm response from them, so I moved on to the Hebrew and English community Facebook groups.
To recap: someone enters the restaurant and leaves money for someone else to have a bite to eat. The money is deposited directly into the till and the patron or waiter writes "sandwich" or "coffee" on a piece of paper and pops it into the appropriate box. Any hungry person may enter the store and ask if there are any ‘suspended’ items available. If there are, then they are given free food, no questions asked.
I am asked the inevitable question, "How do you know that the person is really in need?" My answer to that is, “I really don't care.” If people feel they need a free bite, then please, they need it. I'm more interested in teaching people to be mindful of the fact that we are fortunate we can afford restaurant food when others cannot. The good deed is not diminished by the relative neediness of the recipient. In Judaism, giving and receiving tzedaka "b'seter" (charity in secret) is one of the highest forms of charity. In this project, the giver and receiver do not know each other.
I would like this project to expand all over Israel. If anyone knows someone who runs a restaurant where the food is reasonably priced, please put forward the suggestion. It's a win-win situation. The restaurant receives more business and publicity, and we get to practice some kindness. I try to emphasize that this is a community project and it won't work without the support of the community.
And yes, we are now registered on the international Suspended Coffees website. The organizing body at head office has been warm and encouraging. Their message is "let's spread kindness", and they practice what they preach.
You can reach me at email: firstname.lastname@example.org