Anglos giving back

All over Israel, Anglo ‘olim’ are contributing to their communities.

December 17, 2017 08:46
Pina Hama, a refreshment and break station for soldiers at the Gush Etzion junction, is staffed by v

Pina Hama, a refreshment and break station for soldiers at the Gush Etzion junction, is staffed by volunteers such as Katz. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 A terrorist incident close to home motivated Ma’aleh Adumim resident Paula Stern to raise money for the victim’s family. In February 2016, Tzvika Cohen, an unarmed security guard in the mall in Ma’aleh Adumim, was seriously wounded in an attack by an ax-wielding terrorist. In response, Stern ran a used book sale and raised over NIS 24,000 for the Cohen family.

Stern, who made aliya from New Jersey in 1993, is a co-founder of the Ma’aleh Adumim Book Swap. Noting a lack of affordable books in English, she and her team of volunteers collect donated used books and sell them for NIS 1 to NIS 10 each. Operating twice a year since November 2010, the Ma’aleh Adumim Book Swap has raised over NIS 200,000 for charity, one donated book at a time.

All over Israel, Anglo immigrants are contributing to their communities, raising money for charitable causes and involving hundreds of English-speaking neighbors in their efforts. Their good works are often motivated by local needs or causes that touch their hearts.

Bonnie Rosenbaum, who made aliya in 2011 from Monsey, New York, specializes in feeding lone soldiers.

She is the organizing force behind the annual Lone Soldier Thanksgiving meals that provide a little taste of America to 1,000 lone soldiers. She also organizes meals at the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin for Shabbat and holidays. Lone Soldier Center Thanksgiving 2016 (YouTube/Lone Soldier Center)

Rosenbaum doesn’t cook all the food herself. Instead, she recruits a local coordinator in cities all over Israel.

The local coordinator then arranges for individual volunteers to cook or buy a specific part of the meals – like green beans for 100 people, two whole chickens or three dozen chocolate-chip cookies. Individual cooks bring all the food to the local coordinator at a designated time, and Rosenbaum arranges for volunteers from the Lone Soldier Center to pick up the mounds of foil-wrapped, home-cooked food and deliver it to the mouths of hungry lone soldiers.

She has also innovated projects such as a Shabbat halla and wine campaign, the Thursday cholent project and an Independence Day barbecue.

“Easily, 2,000-3,000 people have been involved feeding the soldiers in the past 12 months,” Rosenbaum estimated.

Besides feeding lone soldiers, Rosenbaum has raised over $60,000 in the last year alone for necessary appliances at the Lone Soldier Center such as washing machines, dryers, refrigerators and ovens.

What motivates someone like Rosenbaum and her thousands of Anglo volunteers? “The food projects at the center would not exist without the Anglos,” she said. “When I started feeding the soldiers three years ago for Shabbat, I started with one community – Ramat Beit Shemesh/Beit Shemesh.

I now have almost 40 communities across the country, and only one of these community organizers is Israeli.

The rest are either American or English.

“I began feeding only 50 soldiers once a month in Jerusalem, and now the project has expanded to 120 soldiers twice a month in Jerusalem, 80 soldiers twice a month in Tel Aviv, once a month in Herzliya and Givat Shmuel, and twice a month in Mekor Haim/Arnona.

The explosive growth and success of the project absolutely could not have not happened without the Anglos. They are the driving force behind this project.

“The Anglos in Israel [understand where] these lone soldiers come from,” she explained. “They can relate to and understand how hard the transition of making aliya can be on a family who have one another to lean on. Anglos see that lone soldiers who are here on their own must have it so much harder and really want them to know that they are not alone.

“Food is such a wonderful way to create a sense of family,” she continued. “We are one family, and the Anglos who are cooking these meals are saying ‘We understand you and we appreciate you.’ Many Anglos had lone soldiers of their own before they made aliya, or they know someone whose son or daughter is now a lone soldier. They feel that they are filling in for the moms or dads that were left behind, even if only on a small level by making brownies or cooking a chicken.”

Can a Jewish mother from Baltimore cooking a chicken in her kitchen in Modi’in for a Shabbat meal for a lone soldier in Tel Aviv be considered a Zionist act? Rosenbaum thinks so.

“Anglos are a huge source of strength for Israel,” she said. “Financially, we are big consumers. We create companies and fill jobs. Culturally and educationally, we have added much to our country. We have our children proudly serve in the army and bring a new spirit of being pioneers and Zionists in a time when it is very easy for Jews to remain in their native countries, especially America.”

Not content to stop her efforts at Thanksgiving dinners and frequent Shabbat meals, Rosenbaum recently initiated a project where volunteers “come into the center and cook a homemade lunch for the soldiers. When the soldiers see the moms and dads in the kitchen washing and cutting vegetables and cooking lunch for them, it takes on a whole new meaning. They see, smell and taste homemade food.

One hundred percent of these cooks are Anglos who have either made aliya or are visiting the center and just want to say thank-you by cooking.”

Endlessly creative in connecting volunteer cooks and lone soldiers, Rosenbaum also organizes halla groups where women all over Israel bake Shabbat hallot for soldiers.

“It would have been so simple to go to the bakery and get storebought hallot. The impact, however, would have been totally different. When [the volunteer bakers] make the bracha [blessing] on the halla, they are thinking about our lone soldiers. The connection is enormous,” Rosenbaum opined.

Speaking about her motivation, she said, “I have been involved with hessed [charity] projects forever. I love taking an idea or a concept and seeing it through, especially if the goal is as important as this one. I find that everyone wants to do hessed on some type of level, but they don’t know how or where. These food projects have a way of giving direction and purpose. People enjoy being given a clear project that will have an immediate effect on people.

“Anyone can be involved,” she said. “A person can bake one dish or make several, or they can purchase any of the items that need to be store bought. One chicken will not feed 120 soldiers, but when 20-30 people come together and complete the sign-up sheet, they all see that, yes, we did it. Our soldiers will have a homecooked Shabbat because of us! And that gives them a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I was happy that I was able to take my ability to organize people and events and create this network of communities and feed the soldiers almost on a daily basis.”

Food is also the key ingredient for the annual food auction run by Adina Mishkoff Kischel of Ma’aleh Adumim. Kischel, who made aliya from New York in 1985, involves 150 of her neighbors each year in preparing homemade dishes and auctioning them off to other neighbors. All proceeds from the food auction go to support a local charity fund that helps neighbors in financial crisis.

Over the past seven years, the Ma’aleh Adumim Food Action has raised over NIS 50,000. Kischel modeled the project after a similar one that has been running in her sister’s community of Ginot Shomron for decades. In her sister’s community, “They raise tens of thousands of shekels. I thought that in Ma’aleh Adumim, with many Anglos and so much welcoming of guests and cooking for others, this would be a good match.

“I am ingrained with doing community work from my family and especially my parents, of blessed memory. I inherited my parents’ natural instinct to work for a community, a project and a cause. I feel a bit restless when not involved in some community project. It’s been fun and satisfying seeing the results in the money raised.”

Asked what Anglos bring to the table specifically that makes them undertake community hessed projects, Kischel shared her opinion. “Anglos grow up in communities and shuls and schools in their home countries where community projects and fundraising are a norm. We are more community-oriented, I feel, than Israelis, who aren’t used to their shul being a community center.

[Outside of Israel], community schools have always been in need of funding, [but not so in Israel], since schools are governmentfunded here.

“Coming together to do fund-raising, for either an Israeli causeor a community project, is second nature to most Jewish communities in Western countries, certainly in the United States. Kids in Israel are involved with fun projects through their youth movements, but as they grow, marry and start families, they become more involved in their own day-to-day existence.

Relatively few have that inbred need or instinct to volunteer time and effort in community projects, which is not to say that Israelis don’t volunteer in existing organizations.”

From her perspective “There’s always a need to fill, always funds to be raised for various causes, especially the needy. I came, I looked around, and saw that there was a need. Any moneys raised by any means are always welcome and can be put to good use,” Kischel explained.

FOR MANY Anglos in Israel, the name most associated with community-based projects is Sharon Katz.

Katz, who made aliya from Woodmere, New York, in 1992 and lives in Efrat, has been raising money and organizing hessed projects in Israel almost since the moment her flight landed. The sheer number of projects she has been involved in is awe-inspiring.

When she first arrived, she saw that her children’s school lacked basic services.

“I started moneymaking programming in our school that provided the extras we were used to in America,” said Katz. “I started a yearly mega-department store, school photos and the crowning jewel, the Chinese auction. I ran them with my friend Leora Bejell for eight years.”

Together, they raised money for a children’s library, a pedagogical library for teachers, and to enhance the school’s science program.

In 1995, Katz and Ora Yanai began collecting clothing from neighbors in Efrat and selling everything for NIS 1 to Ethiopian olim living in Givat Hamatos near Talpiot.

In response to the daily rocket attacks in Sderot, Katz “produced a concert with the great Lenny Solomon that raised enough money to renovate the Kassam [rocket]-proof bunker in Kibbutz Nir Am, next to Gaza. And when businesses were going bankrupt in Sderot because of the daily Kassam rocket attacks, I organized an evening with my friend Shmuel Daniel, where Sderot vendors could sell their wares in Gush Etzion.”

In 2005, when thousands of Jews were evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif, “My friend Judy Rosenstark and I organized Purim costumes for every child and teenager from Gush Katif. Our wonderful friends helped us prepare costume packages and deliver costumes to Gush Katif communities all over the country,” said Katz.

Six months later, she co-founded the Gush Katif Bridal Project, which continues until today.

Approximately 1,400 brides have been given gift packages with which to start their new homes. Money for these gifts is raised from all kinds of creative projects in communities all over Israel. Recently, in Gush Etzion, Katz chaired The Night of A Dozen Showers, honoring Gush Katif brides in a dozen Gush Etzion communities simultaneously. And most recently the project held a double bridal shower which helped a South American convert and a Gush Katif bride.

Theater is one of Katz’s passions, and she has established four separate women’s theater companies, all dedicated to giving women creative outlets while simultaneously raising vast amounts of money for charitable causes.

A series of terrorist attacks in Gush Etzion originally motivated her to found the Raise Your Spirits Summer Stock Company in 2001.

Besides money raised for terrorist victims, the shows that Katz helped produce were critical in raising the spirits of locals.

In 2007, she founded Dames of the Dance as a completely charitable undertaking “in order to give women a stage for their dance, expand their creativity and raise money for needy individuals.” Funds raised have provided needy families with the money they needed to prepare for Passover, built the Boys’ Promenade in Gush Etzion in memory of GilAd Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, teenage boys who were kidnapped and murdered in 2014, and helped fund Merkaz Or, a new trauma center for patients from Kiryat Arba to Beitar Illit. To date, the Dames of the Dance project alone has donated almost NIS 500,000 to charity.

In addition to the projects she initiates, Katz is a volunteer at Pina Hama (“A Warm Corner”), which is a refreshment station for soldiers located at the Gush Etzion junction.

Open from early morning until hours after dinner, Pina Hama is staffed by volunteers such as Katz, who lovingly serve a cup of coffee or a cold drink and a piece of home-baked, donated cake to hundreds of soldiers who stop by for a break from their duties.

Katz has been blessed with awe-inspiring success in her projects, all of which involve hundreds of other volunteers.

“One person may have a dream or inspiration, but only friends enable us to bring our dreams to reality,” she commented.

She estimates that she has raised close to NIS 4 million for a wide array of social causes.

“If someone would have asked me to undertake projects that would need NIS 4m., I would have said, ‘I wish I were able to do that, but I have no idea how I can accomplish that.’ And look: One project at a time has made such a difference, thank God.”

Besides her naturally through-the-roof energy level, what is behind Katz’s motivation to work on projects like these over the past 25 years? “Several months after my aliya, I ran into another oleh, who told me that he felt so grateful and humble to be able to live in Israel when Moses never even had the opportunity to walk here. That thought affected me deeply, and I determined that I would live my life in Israel striving to deserve the privilege that Hashem [God] had granted me. I wouldn’t complain when something was wrong; I would work to fix it,” Katz said.

Katz sees lack and acts. She is endlessly motivated by her appreciation of life in Israel, which she says “can be fabulous and complete. If there are problems, it’s up to us to contribute to our nation by fixing them, not kvetching about them.

“Anglos discover something amazing when they move to Israel. Every action they take in their lives here affects their family, their community and the whole country. Everything they do is magnified here. So they feel that their actions are important, that they can really make a difference.

And they do,” Katz said.

“Anglos are a significant portion of settlers in Judea and Samaria. Anglos know what society is like outside of Israel, and they try to bring the best aspects of Diaspora life to our country. They found schools and yeshivot. They found organizations and innovative businesses. They think big! They spread their giving, self-sacrificing nature. They are not afraid of hard work. They understand that anything is possible if they put in the effort and dedication needed. They make a positive difference with their kindness and positivity.

“Anyone who acts upon his ideas, who goes forward despite all odds, is able to make a difference in Israel,” Katz continued. “Just one little positive act and we can benefit others.

“I can have a storehouse of terrific ideas. What makes my ideas become reality? My friends do – the willingness of my friends to join me in my ideas, no matter what they are. I just mention a project to my friends, and they say, ‘I’m in.’ I can’t emphasize enough the fact that anyone can have an idea, but the key to its success is having friends who will work together to make it a reality.

Without my friends, not one of my projects would have succeeded. Friends make it happen.”

How does Katz know when she’s hit the mark? “A hessed project is a success if it’s a win-win – if the volunteers had an amazing experience creating it on their end, and the recipients felt great about it on theirs,” she maintained. “For example, after the double bridal shower, the participants left hugging and happy, and the brides invited us to their weddings. That’s success! “The success of a hessed project is not measured in the amount of money the project makes; it’s the difference that it makes in people’s lives,” Katz said. “Yes, a hessed project tries to answer a need, but its success is when the recipients understand that someone cares, someone remembers and they are not alone.”


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