Buy a $25 concert ticket and feed Israel’s needy.
That’s the win-win deal on offer at Mexicali Live in Teaneck on Monday, June 22. Two shows that night will spotlight 21 young music students of Ben Hyman of Fort Lee at the same time that it raises money for Leket Israel, Israel’s national food bank and largest food-rescue network.
Mr. Hyman — who is a musician, a music teacher, and the owner of BensGuitar.com — explains that this will be the fifth benefit concert he has staged with pupils, most of whom are yeshiva day-school students.
“I try to find a charity that has some type of relevance to the children,” Mr. Hyman said. “We’re fortunate to live in a comfortable place, never worrying about how to get food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothing on our backs. I want my students to be able to connect to children of the same age who have a completely different kind of life without that kind of security.”
The first concert, in 2011, was the initiative of five bar mitzvah-age musicians — four of them Mr. Hyman’s students — who raised $23,000 to buy equipment for the music-therapy program at Emunah Women’s Bet Elazraki Children’s Home in Netanya, Israel. The following year, Mr. Hyman took on the project as a pilot, involving 13 of his students, and ultimately raising another $32,000 for Beit El Ezaraki.
Altogether, the concerts have raised more than $90,000 for charities, including the Hope & Heroes pediatric cancer program at Columbia University Medical Center.
“This year, we decided to go with Leket because two of my students — Josh Levine of Teaneck on guitar, and Sam Goldberg of Englewood on piano — recorded an album in my studio last year to benefit Leket,” Mr. Hyman said. “They had a goal of $45,000 to buy a truck for food rescue, and they raised $30,000, so I wanted to help them reach the goal.”
Leket Israel founder and chairman Joseph Gitler said the refrigerated truck is needed for a new initiative aimed at rescuing tons of usable food from several large Israel Defense Forces bases.
“The IDF takes good care of its soldiers, and that leads to staggering amounts of food waste, as revealed in a recent state comptroller’s report,” Mr. Gitler said. “We’ve been working with the army for years, but over the past year we got permission to delve deeper and have formed relationships with many more bases. The success of this project will add thousands of quality meals to the poverty system on a daily basis.”
To fund the entire IDF food-rescue project, Leket needs approximately $280,000. The organization’s annual budget this year is about $10 million.
Both Mr. Hyman, 33, and Mr. Gitler, 40, spent their formative years in Teaneck, but they never met one another as they became increasingly active in charitable endeavors.
“My mother used to take me to homeless shelters so that I could see what it really means to be hungry,” Mr. Hyman said. “We grow up in a world where it’s not fair if we don’t have the newest Apple product, because everyone else has one. Seeing homeless children really showed me what it means to actually have nothing. Ever since the first day we visited the shelter I never forgot that there are people out there who need help.”
His parents, Reuven (Robert) and Nancy Hyman, now live in Israel, as does his brother Yakir, whose band, G-Nome, has been touring across the United States. His other brother, Yaakov, lives in New York and works for BensGuitar.
As a young adult, Mr. Hyman played music in a nursing home in Israel, volunteered as a music therapist at the JCC on the Palisades’ Camp Dream Street, and volunteered at several Artworks Express Yourself events sponsored by the Naomi Cohain Foundation for children with serious illnesses.
Six years ago, he co-founded the Israel Service Organization with Jonathan Weiss. “We raised roughly $150,000 and performed three USO-style tours for the Israeli military,” he said. “We met thousands of soldiers, and had a chance to sleep on the bases, eat on the bases, and really get to spend time with the soldiers in their own environment.”
Mr. Gitler, a Moriah School of Englewood graduate, made aliyah in 2000, founded Leket Israel (then called Table to Table) in 2002, and won the 2011 Presidential Citation for Volunteerism as well as the Nefesh B’Nefesh Builders of Zion Award in 2014.
With the help of more than 55,000 annual volunteers, Leket rescues some 1.5 million hot meals and 24 million pounds of produce and perishable goods, and supplies 8,300 sandwiches to underprivileged schoolchildren every day. Food that would have otherwise gone to waste is redistributed to 180 nonprofit organizations caring for the needy, reaching approximately 140,000 people every week.
“We want to thank Ben Hyman for choosing to support Leket Israel at this year’s charity concert,” Mr. Gitler said. “We know that the students have been working hard for many months to prepare for the performances, and knowing that they will enable Leket Israel to rescue more food for those in need as a result of the money they raise in ticket sales truly enhances the event.”
This year Mr. Hyman is expanding to three benefit concerts. Mexicali Live doors open on June 22 at 5:45 for the concert by 10 middle-school students, and at 8 p.m. for the show by 11 high-school students. “Then we’ll do an adult program sometime after the holidays in October,” he said.
He would not reveal the playlist but described it as “a mix of top-40 songs from different genres.”
Several professional musicians helped the young performers rehearse for the shows, which are co-produced by Lisa Schechter of Englewood. “I always have one parent to help me coordinate everything, from seats for grandparents to getting food sponsors and promoting it in school newsletters,” Mr. Hyman said.
He added that when he was a boy, “there was nothing like this available to kids who were interested in pursuing music with the same passion that kids pursue middle- and high-school sports.
“I decided 10 years ago to stop performing and pursue teaching as my full-time business. I still remained active with musicians within my network, but that became my side thing, and my main business and focus became creating the absolute best music experience available for local area kids. I’ve been blessed to have overwhelming community support for my work.”
For concert details or to buy tickets, go to concert.leket.org or www.bensguitar.com.