Everyone has to eat.
That’s a truth sadly well known to dieters, but it’s also a truth that pro-Israel advocates can use to their advantage.
Given that you have to eat, Suzanne Weilgus of Monsey, N.Y., and Rochelle Zupnik of Teaneck say, why not make sure that some of your food comes from Israel?
Not that everything you buy has to be Israeli, they hasten to add, but because there are so very many Israeli products available, why not choose at least some of them for your kitchen and table? If you do, you’ll help the Israeli economy, showcase some of what Israel exports, and eat extremely well as you do so. Virtue will not have to be its own reward. Your taste buds will benefit too.
Ms. Weilgus is the founder of Achi, and both she and Ms. Zupnik are on its five-member guiding team. Klee is the project that now is at the heart of their work for the Jewish State.
First, the names. Achi means “my brother” in Hebrew. It’s an acronym, most often American Communities Helping Israel, but one of the three nouns, the one represented by the letter C, changes as necessary. “It can be Congregations, Children, Campuses, Caterers, Corporations, Campers — you name it, Ms. Weilgus said. “It’s miraculous!”
Achi was founded during the second intifada, the Palestinian violence against Israel that began in 2000 and spluttered to an end in 2005. It grew out of the fear of violence that kept tourists away from Israel, and threatened the country’s at least partially tourist-dependent economy. “We had huge fairs, the Ben Yehuda fairs,” Ms. Weilgus said. Named after the shop-filled tourist-magnet street in Jerusalem, the Ben Yehuda fairs hosted Israeli merchants in American venues.
From there, the women’s desire to help Israel by boosting its economy gathered steam.
“The last thing that the Jewish world needs is another organization that asks for money,” Ms. Weilgus said. “We do not ask for money. We are a think tank. We come up with ideas. We are not re-inventing the wheel. We are making wheels run faster.”
Achi’s most recent idea is Klee. The word means “vessel,” and its use is both practical and symbolic. Klee-the-group asks people either to buy a new vessel — a dish, a plate, a bowl — or to designate one they already own — and use it to hold and focus their efforts. (More about both the organization and the klees it has commissioned is at its website, www.theklee.org.)
Then Klee-the-group asks people to commit to buying Israeli goods, and to use the klee-the-object symbolically, as a reminder of that commitment, and perhaps also practically, as a container that can hold Israeli goods.
The goods themselves can be food, jewelry, art, soaps, dental products, skin creams, electronics — anything. “We emphasize food because we have to buy it every week,” Ms. Zupnik said. “But really it can be anything. Say you are sending your child off to Israel for the year. Don’t send linens with him. Buy them in Israel!
“It’s very simple,” she added. Both women have backgrounds in marketing — Ms. Zupnik now is retired, and Ms. Weilgus runs her own business — so they think naturally in marketing terms. Simple, marketers tell us, is good.
“Our tagline is ‘Think Israel. Buy Israeli,’” Ms. Zupnik said. “You don’t have to remember our name. Just those four words.”
Klee wants people to buy some Israeli products all the time, although certainly it doesn’t expect anyone to buy only Israeli goods. Foods are easy because they’re relatively inexpensive, and easily available in supermarkets and gourmet shops all over. “Just look in your pantry, and see how many products already are from Israel,” Ms. Zupnik said.
Just buy what you like. “One family loves Israeli pickles, and there is a wide variety of Israeli pickles available,” she added. “Some are in vinegar, some are in brine, some are sour, some are half-sour. Some families want pretzels from Israel, and then the next one wants crackers, and another one buys Israeli wine.”
Ms. Weilgus and Ms. Zupnik talk to organizations across the country. “We talk to schools, synagogues, community centers, caterers,” Ms. Weilgus said, just getting warmed up. They’ve also reached people in Canada, and in Central and South America.
“If everyone buys something they enjoy, just spending a few dollars a week, filling their klee, say, with soaps, it makes a difference,” Ms. Weilgus said.
They now are focusing on Klee Shabbats, times when rabbis will tell their congregations about Klee and encourage people to commit to it. “We ask a rabbi to pick a Shabbat in your synagogue — whenever it works best for you, many rabbis say between Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah — and then the rabbi would explain what the Klee is,” Ms. Weilgus said. “It would be in the sermon — it’s minimal effort for maximum impact.
“And then after the service, maybe at the Kiddush — we are not dictating how to do it, just giving ideas about what works — there can be a table with food from Israel, and there will be Klee cards asking for people to make a commitment. They can take the cards home with them. And then the synagogue can dedicate a klee, and the newsletter will always have a reminder to people to fill their klee this week.”
“We are having results, from Seattle down to Boca Raton,” Ms. Zupnik said.
The two women both are Orthodox, but their effort is nondenominational, reaching across the Jewish world, and even includes some outreach to Christians, the two women said. In fact, they said, their project has a secondary but still very important goal — to create unity among the Jewish people. Buying Israeli product transcends differences of theology and observance; everyone can do it, and every single cash-register jingle or online click helps Israel.
Recently, Ms. Zupnik presented the program to the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which is Orthodox, followed up with phone calls, “and now at least one rabbi said, ‘I’m an advocate! Count me in!’” Ms. Weilgus went to Skokie, in suburban Chicago, and has spoken to rabbis in Vancouver and Dallas. Ms. Zupnik took the program to Baltimore, where a local rabbi asked her, midweek, to present Klee at his shul that Shabbat. She did, and “It was a dream come true,” she said.
There are some concepts that Ms. Zupnik, her internal retired-but-never-out-of-service marketer surfacing, wants to be sure to get across, despite the risk of repeating herself.
“This is a unique, no-cost, feel-good project that is contagious, exciting, multi-age, normative, fulfilling, and unifying,” she said. “It takes minimal effort for a maximum effect. Remember that you can change it to suit your own situation, so adopt and adapt it.
“So don’t let it be a secret!”