The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book and product empire enjoys billions of dollars in sales worldwide.
The Chabad of Paramus “Challah and Chicken Soup for the Quarantined Soul” project has more modest goals. It is not a sale or fundraiser. It simply is about providing two iconic, comforting Shabbat foods to anyone who could use a pick-me-up during the coronavirus crisis.
Zeesy Grossbaum, who runs Chabad of Paramus with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Grossbaum, explained that versions of the cleverly named project are happening at Chabad Houses across the country.
“Some are offering challah and chicken soup for sale,” she said. “I wanted to do it a little differently. My goal was to ask all the people in Paramus if they know someone who might benefit — maybe someone elderly or alone. This is a way to turn our community into ambassadors spreading comfort, joy, and friendship to anyone needing a lift, even a healthcare hero.”
Ms. Grossbaum sent out the following message to her distribution list the last week of April: “Order a care package for someone who can use some Shabbat love and deliver happiness! Free of charge. Pick up at the Grossbaums May 1.”
On Thursday night, when she and her older children normally cook for Shabbat anyway, they made a little extra to fill five “Challah and Chicken Soup for the Quarantined Soul” orders. The following week, the number of orders doubled.
“One man took an order for himself and another for his mother,” she said. “Another woman called a friend who she thought could use it and the friend was so moved that she called me and made a donation.”
Beth Janoff Chananie, the Jewish Standard’s community editor, ordered soup and challah to bring to a Holocaust survivor to whom she normally delivers a Shabbat meal each Thursday through the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey; that program’s on hold now. “I do miss her and I hope she will be so happy to receive this special gift from Zeesy and me,” Ms. Chananie said.
Most of the time, people drive up to the Grossbaums’ house and one of the Grossbaums brings out the order. “We did some deliveries for people who couldn’t come,” Ms. Grossbaum said. “I got a request from someone who doesn’t live nearby but her husband is in a care facility here and she asked my husband to deliver a package to him on Fridays. Thank God, we’re happy to do it.” She hopes to continue through Shavuot, which begins the night of May 28.
“People are realizing they can do something for others, even now, and that’s exactly what I would have hoped for. Just to make people feel they are not alone,” Ms. Grossbaum said.
Challah was the centerpiece of a different sort of project at Valley Chabad in Woodcliff Lake.
Rabbi Yosef Orenstein was on a Zoom call with participants in the “CTeen” group within Valley Chabad’s Teen Leadership Initiative. CTeen is all about giving back to the community, but covid-19 restrictions, particularly social distancing, have limited their activities severely.
“The rabbi asked if we could think of a way to help healthcare workers,” Alexis Mayer said. Alexis is a sophomore at Pascack Hills High School and one of the CTeen leaders.
Rabbi Orenstein’s question reminded Alexis that her mother, pediatrician Dr. Michelle Mayer, had mentioned that about 25 doctors and nurses from out of town were being housed at the Montvale Marriott while they worked with the staff at the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.
“I thought it would be great to help them,” Alexis said. “We decided to sell challahs and use the money to donate breakfast to them at the hotel. I got a lot of my friends, even friends who aren’t Jewish, to write letters of thanks to put into the packages.”
They decided to call the project “Challah Sale for Covid.” No specific price was set; they requested a donation of at least $10 per challah, each one home baked with proper hygiene precautions by Hindy Drizin, Estie Orenstein, and Fraidy Raices.
Rabbi Orenstein reported: “Once the word got out through social media, it spread quickly among friends. Challah purchases began coming in, and we could hardly keep up with the orders. In all, over 60 challahs were ordered and a remarkable $1,900 was raised in just three days.”
Alexis and her mother used the proceeds to buy breakfast meals at Sammy’s in Teaneck on the next Sunday morning, May 3, and they delivered them to the Montvale Marriott with a letter in nearly every bag.
When they arrived, a ventilator specialist from Naperville, Illinois, met them in the lobby. “She said everything we do, and other people are doing for them, is really appreciated and means more to them than we can know,” Alexis said. “I think they were very touched by this.”
On Tuesday morning, the group delivered 100 breakfast meals to medical staff at the Valley Hospital. The hospital’s CFO, Rich Keenan, told Rabbi Orenstein and the CTeens that their support “means the world to our medical staff. These past seven weeks have been extremely stressful for our doctors and nurses. When they see the community come together and show them this kind of love and support it helps them get through the day.”
Rabbi Orenstein said that the teens already are brainstorming more ways to help during the covid-19 crisis.
Rabbi Dov Drizin, the executive director of Valley Chabad, said, “The power of our youth to do good is endless. In a time of darkness, we can all find ways to bring light and happiness to others.”
At Chabad of Hackensack, the item being distributed to the community wasn’t food but face masks.
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker had the idea of distributing free masks outside the shul on Sunday morning, May 1. A donor generously offered to provide 1,500 masks. However, when they arrived, a couple of days ahead of the giveaway, Rabbi Kaminker saw that they were hospital-grade KN95 facemasks; these are the Chinese version of American N95 masks.
“I knew these are the kind needed by hospitals, so I reached out to Hackensack Medical Center and asked if they needed them, and they said definitely yes,” Rabbi Kaminker said. “So I gave them all to the hospital and went out to buy new ones to hand out.”
Because he didn’t have time to wait for a shipment, he paid a little more to buy them locally, using Chabad House funds and some donations sent in response to his Facebook appeal.
If facemasks are available locally, why provide them for free? “A lot of people don’t want to go into stores today,” Rabbi Kaminker said. “They felt more comfortable driving by and having one of our volunteers put the masks in their trunk or hand them through the window.”
Those volunteers came from the Bergen County chapter of the service sorority Delta Sigma Theta.
“David Sims, the deputy mayor of Hackensack, arranged for them to come help us give the masks out,” Rabbi Kaminker said. “We needed a lot of hands.” He and the volunteers wore custom-made cloth masks bearing the message “Think good, it will be good.”
Each packet contained the following letter from Rabbi Kaminker:
“We are happy to present you with five 3-ply face masks to use for your personal protection, and we pray that you and your loved ones are healthy and well. Together with caring for our personal protection (and following all orders from CDC, state and local health officials), we suggest to also invest in emotional and spiritual protection, as well.
“Specifically, we recommend to:
• Focus on mental health. If you feel under emotional distress, please reach out to a family member, a neighbor or a therapist. If you would like to speak with me, feel free to email me at Rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com.
• Be hopeful. A famous Chassidic adage says: Think good, it will be good. Try to remove negative thoughts from your mind and focus only on the positive and hopeful ones.
• Have faith. Remember the official motto of the United States: In G-d we trust. Let’s pray to G-d to bring an end to all suffering, amen.”
The hand-out was supposed to last from 1 to 3 p.m., but by 2:15 all 1,600 masks had been distributed.
“One mitzvah leads to another,” Rabbi Kaminker said. “We had planned to give masks to the general public, and we ended up giving masks to the public and to the hospital.”