Wheels in motion

On the Move is smoothing the path to IKEA for Jerusalemites and doing some ‘hessed’ in the process.

'On the Move' moving company (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
'On the Move' moving company
When he was a college student, Benjamin Terrell drove from Northern California to Panama in an eco-car powered by used French fry oil.
These days, the religious father of eight drives a moving van in Jerusalem.
It’s been a long road for Terrell, 39, whose On the Move website describes him as “the happiest CEO worldwide.”
Established four years ago, On the Move found a niche among English-speaking Israelis looking for American-style service in their native language and among the growing number of Israelis who prefer to hire only Jewish laborers.
The company’s new once-a-week shuttle service to IKEA (“Let us escort you and other skilled shoppers to IKEA, where you can pick up your pre-ordered goods or take a power shop for the afternoon”) serves yet another niche among newcomers and any Jerusalem-area residents lacking the wheels to get to Netanya.
“Moving furniture and appliances is hard work, but you’re always going different places and meeting amazing people from India, Ethiopia, Europe, America and Canada,” Terrell says. “I get to see the beautiful neighborhoods and explore the interesting streets of Israel, particularly in Jerusalem.”
Even better, he says, his job affords him the opportunity for hessed, acts of loving-kindness.
“When four strong guys come to your house and move everything with love and care and respect, that is a real physical way of doing kindness,” he says.
Terrell employs three English-speaking Jewish workers and hires more as needed. One of these regulars, 24-yearold Eyal Bogot of Ma’aleh Adumim, says Terrell has set a tone that makes the physical labor meaningful.
“It’s like working in hessed all day, helping people in a stressful situation, making it fun and happy and calm to move house,” says Bogot, who worked for a mover in Australia from 2012 to 2014. “Our main goal is to try to listen to people’s needs. Every move is a new beginning for them, and we’re happy to be part of that.”
Sherrill Layton of Ceto Design, a new-media branding company for small businesses, recently began working with Terrell.
“Benjamin understands how it feels to make aliya, to move to a place where everything is foreign, so there is a bit less stress in the move,” she says, noting that moving is second only to divorce in the top 10 list of stressors. “If you have someone who speaks your mother tongue, it’s an invitation to relax a little. Familiarity is the word.”
Running a moving company is not what Terrell would have envisioned doing when he grew up in Berkeley, California.
Then again, neither would he have imagined raising a family in Israel.
“I am here because of my wife,” he explains.
The story began with his decision, during his sophomore year at Humboldt State University in northern California, to explore his Jewish roots through a six-month program on a kibbutz immersed in Hebrew and arts.
“Vera was there from Ecuador and was doing photography.
I loved her at first sight,” he relates. “I was very much into capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, and maybe she was attracted to me because of that. At the time, she was into gymnastics and learned capoeira later.”
It would be another five years until the two got back together.
In the intervening time, Terrell finished college while living in a northern California redwood forest in a strawbale cabin he built himself. After graduating in 2000, he made his eco-car trip and called Vera when he reached South America. But she was in New Jersey with relatives for Passover and invited him to join her. ”I didn’t even know it was Passover,” says Terrell.
He hopped on a plane and got another surprise when Vera informed him she was now religious. If he wanted to continue the relationship, he would have to study Judaism seriously.
A free plane ticket from the outreach organization Aish HaTorah landed Terrell in Israel during the infamous week of September 11, 2001, for a three-week beginners’ program.
Vera also arrived to learn at a seminary and get a master’s degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University.
At Aish’s Jerusalem campus, Terrell battled it out with the rabbis.
“At Berkeley, anything goes. The only prohibited thing is to say you have the only truth, and that’s what Judaism was saying – even though it respects other faiths -- and that turned me off. But Aish’s Essentials program encourages questions. Slowly but surely I progressed, and then something clicked in my mind about the possibility of belief in God,” he says.
Vera and Benjamin married in 2002 and have been living in Jerusalem ever since. Vera, who teaches capoeira to women, was followed to Israel by her mother, brother and sister. Terrell pursued his passion of composing and recording music; but as the family quickly grew, he had to find another source of income.
The couple’s first child, Hallel Hodaya, was born with a rare chromosomal disorder. Now 10 years old, she attends ALEH, a Jerusalem facility for children with multiple severe disabilities.
“Because of her, we got a lot of blessings in our life,” says her father.
One of those blessings came in the tangible form of a van with a lift in the back, a benefit from the National Insurance Institute.
“I was at a point in my life four years ago, with expenses piling up, where I didn’t really know what to do,” he relates. “A friend said, ‘Look, you have this vehicle with a lift. Why not move my washing machine for cash?’ So I did that, and it put some cash in my pocket. Then I put an ad on Janglo [the Jerusalem Anglo information exchange], and it snowballed from there. The van is registered in the name of my daughter, who doesn’t see, talk or walk, yet it enables our family to make a living here.”
Terrell built up the business with that van and a trailer, renting trucks when necessary. Now he plans to buy his own truck.
“For a small business owner, the beginning is very difficult,” says Terrell, who took a course in Hebrew at the MATI Business Development Center in Jerusalem. “At first I was trying to do everything – take calls, do the scheduling and be a technician. Then I read Michael Gerber’s E-Myth, a book that was fundamental to growing my business by stepping outside it and creating a system.”
Two years ago, an American woman he knew was visiting her children in Israel and wanted to buy things from IKEA for their house. She had difficulty communicating with the staff in her limited Hebrew, so she hired Terrell to take her back, walk her around and explain the options, then haul back the smaller purchases and assemble everything when all the pieces arrived.
Considering the immense popularity of the IKEA culture worldwide, Terrell realized he had hit on a business idea: the On the Move IKEA shuttle, now available twice a month for a fee of NIS 150.
In addition to advertising on social media, Terrell keeps his company website up to date with customer testimonials and interviews, as well as blogs where people can share thoughts on the physical, spiritual and psychological aspects of moving house.
Layton had the idea of transforming the website into a forum for people to post their Jewish-themed art, including Terrell’s own music.
“The site keeps people enjoying the company’s service via extra content in the form of Jerusalem culture,” she explains.