A cookie and a smile

David Ehrlich helps parents cheer up homesick students with fresh baked goods

Gluten free cookies 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
Gluten free cookies 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
David Ehrlich may sell cookies, but he sees himself as a purveyor of more than just baked goods.
“We’ve moved our emphasis off selling products; our emphasis now is on selling smiles and hugs,” says Ehrlich, the co-owner of Gili’s Goodies. The company, which opened in 2001 out of the Ehrlichs’ home, has expanded beyond their wildest dreams and they now spend all year shipping out baskets of baked goods to homesick yeshiva and seminary students.
The 58-year-old New York native, who now lives in Efrat, never imagined he would make his living selling cakes and cookies. But his job as a filmmaker wasn’t providing enough income, and things were even more difficult during the second intifada. In an attempt to boost morale, the residents of Gush Etzion staged a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and asked David’s wife, Gail (or Gili), to bake cookies to sell during intermission.
The show was a hit but the cookies were an even bigger one, and the couple began their own business focusing on selling their wares online and in stores. They soon realized that the biggest – and most rewarding – market was getting people in North America to send gift baskets to their friends and family living in Israel.
“We are shlihim [messengers] for people outside of Israel who come to us for everything,” says Ehrlich, noting that at least 65 percent of his sales come from parents sending packages to their children who are studying in Israel for the year.
“Our goal is for parents to feel like they’re here with their kid when they can’t be here with their kid,” says Ehrlich. “Mom says, ‘My kid sounded terrible on the phone, please bring her a package.’” He also keeps mom and dad happy by taking photos and videos of the teens receiving their gifts with big smiles – one of the reasons he loves doing deliveries himself.
“I love the smiles and I love the videos,” says the father of four. “A lot of the kids are, ‘Wow my mom really thought of me!’” And he even tries to fulfill special requests by parents – “except for during Purim, when we’re totally swamped.”
“A mom once called and said, ‘My son is sick in bed, can you get chicken soup to him?’” Ehrlich recalls. “We don’t really do it but my wife made soup and we delivered it,” making the mother eternally grateful.
“We try, if we can, to go the extra mile for the parent, to make that connection to their kid,” he says. “They’re 18 years old, its their first time away from home and mommy misses them and they miss mommy.”
David and Gail also hope to target other North American customers who don’t have children studying in Israel for the year. “Birthdays, anniversaries, hagim [holidays], shiva or smahot [joyous occasions]” – most people have friends and family living in the country who would be thrilled to receive a basket, he says.
And Gili’s Goodies has added a separate prong of its business, offering baskets for sale through their website to distribute to lone soldiers or children at SHALVA, The Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel.
“American moms relate to lone soldiers and it strikes a nice chord that we can make that connection,” he says. At first they were distributing packages to soldiers they knew – friends of their children who served in the IDF – but they later joined up with the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center to reach a wider group.
During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Gili’s Goodies partnered with HonestReporting.com to deliver 18,000 cookies to soldiers who were about to cross the Gaza border.
“Usually soldiers come to pick up [the packages], but I went down to the Gaza border to deliver the truck,” recalls Ehrlich. “We were handing them out as they were putting on their gear, about to go into battle. I started crying – it was truly the highlight of my soldier project.”
And now David and Gail are gearing up for Purim – their craziest time of the year, when they sell about 1,500 gift baskets and 2,500 soldier gifts.
“We don’t sleep; we go from this small mom-and-pop operation to hiring eight to 10 employees for two weeks,” says Ehrlich.
And even when the yeshiva and seminary students go home for the summer, the Ehrlichs keep busy with teens who are here on summer programs, from “NCSY to USY, Young Judaea, Sulam.”
“There are four weeks a year when we can breathe,” Ehrlich says. “The last two weeks of June and last two weeks of August.”
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