In 2003, Joseph Gitler had been living in Israel for three years, having made aliyah to work in Israel’s booming tech industry. In that time, he’d been noticing a major crisis emerging in Israel: Over one million people struggled to afford enough nourishing food, while simultaneously millions of tons of prepared meals and fresh produce were being wasted every year. How could so much go to waste when so many go hungry, Joseph asked himself.
Then he remembered Leviticus 19:9: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.” Realizing that sometimes modern problems call for ancient solutions, at age 25 Joseph founded a nonprofit devoted to rescuing food. His goal was nothing less than changing the trajectory of food insecurity in Israel by gathering the excess of our 21st century harvests, both from the fields and from our many venues for prepared meals. He called his organization Leket, meaning “gleaning,” a word taken from that Leviticus passage he found so inspiring.
Starting out as the sole employee of his one-man organization, Joseph would drive his Subaru hatchback all around Israel, collecting uneaten meals from corporate cafeterias and catering halls. A converted chicken coop packed with five refrigerators served as his first warehouse. His strategy was straightforward: after filling the refrigerators with healthy and nutritious rescued food, he donated it to local Israeli food banks. Then he filled the empty refrigerators all over again.
In the 15 years since, Jewish Federation-supported Leket has grown exponentially, working with businesses, corporations and farmers across Israel to save 40 million pounds of fresh produce each year — that’s 20,000 tons — plus 23 million hot meals and 2 million pounds of manufactured food annually. All told, they feed 200,000 Israelis every single week. Their reach may have expanded, but their commitment to efficiency remains the same. For Joseph and Leket’s 60,000 annual volunteers, efficiency is more than just good will, it is a religious and national imperative. Efficiency is how we save lives. We should all aspire to be as efficient as Leket.
When you have something of value — be it time, money, health — and are careful to use it wisely so as to appreciate and make the most of it, you are efficient.