National Service: An accessory to fervor

Sergeant-Major Yehuda. Rules his kingdom of electronic accessories with a firm hand.

Yehuda Aviad 311 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Yehuda Aviad 311
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Malbi in Kfar Saba is a huge warehouse where people can come and buy secondhand furniture and goods cheaply.
Everything there is donated, so it is sold at really low prices.
The acronym stands for Merkaz Le’avizrei Bayit (Center for Home Accessories), and Yehuda Aviad, who has been the manager for four years, rules this kingdom of old kitchen cabinets and battered washing machines with a firm but affable hand, befitting the ex-sergeant-major he is.
Everyone knows him as Yehuda and he knows everyone – his regular customers, his 40 volunteers and, perhaps most importantly, his stock, which is sprawled over nearly a dunam of covered warehouse.
When someone puts his head round the office door during our interview to ask Yehuda if they have a small refrigerator, he shakes his head. He knows what they have because he inspects everything that comes in, making sure that nothing is put out for sale unless it is in perfect working order.
His field of expertise is electricity and he worked in this until he retired. So you can be sure if you acquire a secondhand television, dishwasher, washing machine or refrigerator, that it is going to work.
He has been volunteering at Malbi for 15 years, and in the last four he has been running the place. He comes in at 7:30 a.m. and stays until closing at 5.
“Sometimes I come in at night and open up so people can take stuff,” he says.
Since he took over the reins, the organization, which used to be a little haphazard, is now run with military precision.
“We collect things from all over the Sharon area,” he says. “When we get a call that someone has furniture to dispose of, we send our drivers to pick it up. We take down the details on the phone about who they are and what they are donating and the driver arrives with this information, plus a card thanking them for their contribution.
“Then the item is thoroughly examined. I deal with the electrical equipment and we have a resident carpenter who is in charge of all the wood things. Every wardrobe is photographed before it is taken apart so he knows exactly how to put it together again, and the client also knows what he is buying.”
Aviad was born in Yemen in 1941, so he was nearly eight when his family started the trek that would lead them to Operation Magic Carpet and a new life in the newly established State of Israel. He remembers it well, the hardships of the month’s trek, boarding the aircraft for the flight which they dubbed “on eagles’ wings,” and the months spent in the transit camps where one tent housed several families, each in its corner.
“It was all very strange to us,” he recalls. “Seeing Jews without head coverings who took us and cut off our peyot. My mother gave birth to a healthy baby boy and they told her he had died. But she didn’t believe them and she went to the hospital and found him and brought him back. Many families weren’t so lucky.”
The traumas of his early childhood have affected him in that he appreciates life now and feels the situation is so much better than it was in the 1950s.
At 12 he was apprenticed to an electrician and learned on the job, helping to support his family. His father didn’t work and his mother was a cleaner.
In 1966, with the country in a huge depression, he decided to enlist in the regular army as this would at least provide a steady income, and he stayed there for nearly 20 years.
Happily married, with five children and 13 grandchildren, he devotes many hours a day to Malbi and enjoys every minute of it. Besides helping people who can’t afford to buy new, everything in his stock is being recycled rather than dumped.
He has spare parts for everything and shows me drawers full of gas knobs and piles of washing-machine belts.
“We don’t throw anything away,” he says.
Under his direction, Malbi also helps the less fortunate, donating money to other nonprofits, making bar mitzva celebrations for underprivileged kids, providing heaters for old people and scholarships for slow learners.
On three occasions hoards of money have been found in donated furniture. The last time it was NIS 30,000 which, like the other times, went straight to the police. They regularly find jewelry, which they try to return to the donor.
They also have a small shop selling all kinds of small items, like dishes, light fixtures, kettles and paintings.
Electronic organs come in at regular intervals.
“Suppose you get something really valuable, a good painting or a Clarice Cliff tea set?” I ask him.
“We wouldn’t know,” he says with his big smile.