Originally from New York, I attended modern Orthodox schools and camps and met my wife, Leelah, in Camp Moshava when I was 15. After earning my BA from Yeshiva University and later my JD from Fordham University, we made aliyah during the second intifada along with our daughter.

Following a brief stint in the high-tech sector, I founded Leket Israel in 2003 as a one-man volunteer operation to address the pressing issues of hunger and food waste in Israel. Over the past 25 years, my family has grown to include five children and a dog, while Leket Israel has grown to become the largest food rescue organization in the country. 

Leket Israel has faced unique challenges and obstacles, and each one was met head on with the recipients at the forefront of every decision. During both the Covid-19 pandemic and since October 7th, Leket adapted to ensure that we were able to continue providing food to those who need it most.

Joseph Gitler, founder of Leket Israel. Photo by Merav Ravitz Moshel
Joseph Gitler, founder of Leket Israel. Photo by Merav Ravitz Moshel

On October 7th, I was at home hosting a minyan in my backyard for Simchat Torah, and many of the people who had come to pray were called up to service throughout the day. I also heard from my son, who was serving his military duty near Ashkelon. 

The first few days and weeks I traveled throughout the country, volunteering and assisting where I could, organizing collections of items needed by soldiers and evacuees. 

As Israelis faced widespread unemployment, evacuations and home confinements, the physical, mental and financial distress became increasingly pronounced, highlighting the critical need for nutritional support. In collaboration with nonprofit partners, Leket evaluated the most pressing needs and reconfigured its operations to offer emergency relief on multiple fronts.

Leket Israel swiftly adapted its business model to provide immediate assistance to residents in southern Israel, recognizing the urgent and multifaceted needs arising from the conflict. Leket’s dedicated team worked tirelessly to ensure that food distribution remained efficient despite road blockages, nonprofit organization closings, relocations and staff shortages. 

Quickly we realized that our focus needed to be on the Israeli agriculture sector, which faced severe physical and emotional damage from the attack and the subsequent military actions. We sent nearly 100,000 volunteers to support farmers around the country, providing loans and financial assistance as needed.

Through strategic alliances and collaboration with partner organizations, Leket maximized the impact of its efforts, reaching a broader constituency and making a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of people.

Throughout the years, people have asked me why our focus is on food as opposed to other services. For me, rescuing food has always been a win-win solution. 

In Israel, 37% of all food that is produced goes to waste. Meanwhile, nonprofits are struggling to raise money to provide food for their communities instead of addressing their other needs. By alleviating this stress, we are putting the emphasis on helping people leave the circle of poverty as well as rescuing food that would otherwise unnecessarily go to waste. 

Leket has worked diligently as the Israeli representative for the Global FoodBanking Network. Our work with the government led to the passing of the Food Donation Act in 2018, and our continued lobbying in the Knesset will, hopefully, lead to further government assistance.

“Supporting the farmers with volunteers and money is critical for the future of our nation.”

I think everyone is looking for a way meaningful way to contribute to the situation here in Israel. Coming to Israel and volunteering is the best way to make a significant impact. For those who are unable to come volunteer, providing financial support enables organizations like Leket Israel to continue providing for those in need.

In the face of unprecedented hardship, Leket remains a beacon of hope and compassion. Our ability to adapt, innovate and continue our mission during the current conflict speaks to the dedication of our staff, the generosity of our supporters and volunteers, and the spirit of the Jewish people and their allies. 

Leveraging 20 years of experience, resources and logistics, Leket swiftly implemented a range of relief activities designed to address the urgent increase in demand and ensure that we continue to make a meaningful impact during these trying times.

I’ve been inspired by the mass influx of volunteers from around the world who have dropped everything to come to Israel and volunteer. I find motivation from our brave soldiers who risk their lives to keep us safe. 

Right now, the farmers are facing the greatest crisis without working hands and most farmers in the north not having access to their land. Supporting the farmers with volunteers and money is critical for the future of our nation. 

My ultimate goal is an Israel where Leket no longer needs to exist because we are all earning livable wages and able to provide our families with nutritious food without breaking the bank. 

In the immediate future, I hope we will be able to return to our original mission of rescuing food for those in need. And of course, I hope for the safe return of the hostages and the safety of our soldiers. 

The way we were all able to come together in support of the country during our greatest time of need is something I hope will continue into the future.