It’s a large courtyard, filled with people, like any other marketplace you might find in towns across the world. Colourful flags are strung around, and little stalls hold boxes of clothing and household goods. Yet, stepping into this marketplace in Haifa, Israel, it’s suddenly clear that this one is special.
In the left corner is a stand with a woman busy writing down names and contact details of half a dozen other people standing around her. There’s a positive atmosphere in the courtyard. In the back is a huge pile of furniture, all from Crossroads, all waiting for new homes. Looking around at the people browsing the goods, it’s suddenly clear what makes this ‘marketplace’ different: no money is changing hands. The ‘customers’ looking at the goods are refugees and others in need who have found themselves in desperate circumstances in Israel.
Between 1989 and 2006, almost a million people emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel, escaping violent conflicts and collapsed economies. For a nation with only 4.5 million at that time, it was a huge influx of people. In recent decades, Crossroads has helped supply NGOs like the one running this distribution ‘marketplace’ in Haifa. We’ve shipped more than 20 containers of goods to support refugees and new immigrants start life afresh in a place of safety.
Most recently, 2014 saw a new wave of immigrants from the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, many of whom have sought help from this distribution centre. “I had families here, the last year, who came with war visible in their eyes,” said Victor, the centre’s director, who was a refugee himself from the former Soviet Union. “They didn’t have food, they didn’t have a house to stay in. They had absolutely no idea where to go. They didn’t even have official status in Israel because that takes some time. In the meantime, they were just wandering through the streets – mothers, fathers and children, all together. They don’t speak the language and they don’t know Israeli culture, so these people need a lot of help getting through these first weeks here.”
The government helps these new arrivals with accommodation, but often the homes are bare. Furniture from Crossroads, given out through this distribution centre, has helped many such refugees move from having nothing, sleeping on the floor, to having a real home for their family.
“It happens all the time that they come to me and ask why we are helping them and why we are being so nice,” reflects Victor. “I always explain that I was not different than they were, and have been going through the same process as they are now. It’s my vision to offer them the same chance as I had: to start a new future here. Not in war, but in peace.”
Outside, in the marketplace, an elderly lady is leaving with some pieces of clothing and a smile on her face. No strings attached and no bill to pay. This is not a place to pay money for clothes, but a place to receive love and the chance to start a new life.