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Falafel Yael is one of Netanya's busiest falafel places. Every day except Shabbat, customers form lines outside the shop. Its owner, who herself likes to go by the name "Falafel Yael," says that she has formally retired from making falafel after 20 years in the business. She has given her recipes to her husband and members of her extended family who now run the shop.
Falafel Yael now devotes her time to another full-time job - she manages a "syndicate of kindness" that she has built up over the years to help hundreds of struggling neighbors. Its services are discreetly advertised on the shop's walls. One notice mentions an address where one can drop off used clothing in good condition, and those in need can try them on and choose what they wish.
There's a number to call for those who have extra furniture to be picked up. She always carries a comprehensive list of people's specific furniture needs in her purse. Charity boxes are nearby, flanked by a sign encouraging clients to donate what they can or give a modest sum monthly and adopt a family in financial need.
There are no name plates, award dinners or televised fund drives for this goodwill effort - it is a strictly local affair.
There was a time when Yael Ben-Moshe and her family were in need themselves, and she remembers making a vow that if they get through the crisis and the shop she wanted to open was a success, she would devote her life to performing deeds of kindness.
"This is my opportunity to act on my words," she says. "Without doing kindness, I am not a complete person."
Ben-Moshe is a diminutive, middle-aged woman with roots in Yemen and a to-the-point demeanor. Everyone knows her as she moves through her neighborhood with the pace of a speed walker, a smile and a listening ear for everyone.
"She's an angel," says one neighbor. "She looked after me," adds another. "She came before Shabbat and helped put everyone and everything in order," says a third.
Within the space of a 15-minute walk, Ben-Moshe visited a woman recently home from hospital and arranged a medicine delivery and a meal for the evening; advised a man where he could go to receive clothes; and gave a mother the phone number of a school for her child.
She explains that she performs such acts of kindness because her heart feels the needs of other people, and one act of kindness helps others follow suit. The result is a network of people who help each other. The majority of these kind deeds are not big projects - just people making the world a little better. She points out that according to Jewish custom, after one's family, neighbors are next in line to receive one's kindness. For Ben-Moshe, that means the people of Netanya's Ben- Zion neighborhood.
"One does not have to go farther than a next-door neighbor or the building opposite to find someone who could use a little kindness," she says. "It could be someone who is very much alone in his or her daily life or a mother of a large family who is never alone."
Ben-Moshe visits such people on a regular basis. "In my eyes, mothers with many young children are today's real heroines. They usually do not have spare time or funds, so I try to do what is possible to help. An hour or two of help means a great deal to them - a little ironing, washing, looking after the children, a few kind words. With the money collected from good people, I buy extra disposable diapers, wipes and infant formula and make special purchases for Shabbat," she says.
Her partner in distributing funds to needy individuals and families is Rabbanit Rachel Morowitz, whose husband Natan is the rabbi of the Young Israel synagogue on Rehov Shaul Hamelech.
"I've known Yael for over 27 years and have seen her do much good," says Morowitz. "My husband and I have a charity fund that helps individuals, some of whom are referred by Yael. Quietly and without fanfare, she dispenses kindness and funds to those in need."
Ben-Moshe believes that another way to dispense kindness is in the idea that a tidy house has a positive influence on the people inside it.
"Families with many young children often live in small spaces and need every centimeter to feel good. When I see a family in distress and the house in a mess, I like to make order from the chaos. Organization brings with it mental order," she says.
She is a firm believer that everything has a solution, and her way of assisting is to roll up her sleeves and do what she can to help.
"There are those living alone and those who for various reasons are just lonely. I visit them for a few minutes, arrange for medicine deliveries if needed and occasionally have a meal sent in. Sometimes, I suggest activities at a recreation center. If they need transportation, I try to arrange it. People in need are not always the most attractive, personable, reasonable or willing. God does not always send you the easy cases. Neverheless, they are human beings and deserve help."
Sometimes help can be in the form of advice or learning something new. For many years, Ben-Moshe's home has been a center for weekly lectures for women on Torah, family and personal issues.
"An informed speaker can have a great influence on a person's life, and many women have changed their lives for the better by becoming more knowledgeable," she says.
Ben-Moshe is also an activist when it comes to the surroundings in which she and her neighbors live. If a streetlight needs replacing, garbage needs to be picked up or a sidewalk becomes cracked, she knows the number to call or where to address a letter.
"This is also a form of kindness. I do not give up until what is needed gets done. After years of being in touch with the municipality, I know who to call and they know that my calls represent issues that need attention," she says.
Ben-Moshe equates good advice or pointing people in the right direction as another form of kindness. She acts as the spokesperson for women and families vis a vis government agencies, and she talks to social workers on behalf of the needy. She notes that people often do not know that help is available tailored to their needs.
Orphaned at an early age, Ben-Moshe was placed in the Weingarten Orphanage in Jerusalem and raised in a spirit of kindness. She remembers that instead of conveying the "poor me" attitude, the girls were made to feel how special they were and how special they could make others feel by doing acts of kindness. The girls were raised until marriage with love and warmth in the way of Torah and good deeds.
As they raise their families, these young women have formed networks of kindness in their own communities. They have remained good friends and, although they live in different parts of the country, they still plan projects together and influence others to join them.
The syndicate of kindness that Ben-Moshe has established in Netanya takes up many hours of her day.
"It's not so much a matter of having time, rather of making time. The woman who helps others also helps herself and her family. Her whole family benefits from this attitude."
Her mantra is that a little help for others goes a long way.
"One needs to get out and do acts of kindness, and by doing them God gives one the strength to do more. It could be as simple as picking up the phone and speaking to someone who is alone or helping someone get out of the tangle of daily chores," she says.
Ben-Moshe does not have a lot of spare time.
"I could not sit in a caf all day or spend hours shopping in town," she says. "I run to do kindness and feel that this keeps me in shape mentally and physically."
When her husband and two younger children return home in the late afternoon, she puts a slight hold on telephone calls and makes time for them. Nevertheless, they are all involved in the business of doing kindness - even though there are times when they would prefer her undivided attention.
"Very often I want to disconnect the telephone," sighs her nine-year-old daughter Rahel, before relating her own kindness project. Every day she visits a neighbor who has nine children. State assistance does not suffice; the woman has no outside help, and she and her family is struggling.
"For an hour or two, I fold laundry, sweep the floors and look after the children. It does not seem like a big deal to me, but it means a great deal to this mother. And, you know what - it's really fun, and afterwards I feel like a new person," says Rahel.
Anyone who wants to offer assistance, furniture, clothing or funding can address themselves to Falafel Yael.
"There's always laundry to fold, children to watch, closets to straighten and the sick to visit. Just tell me what you want to do, and I can make a match," says Ben-Moshe.
Falafel Yael is located at 82 Rehov Petah Tikva in Netanya. Tel: (09) 861-8103 or (09) 8622702.
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