“On October 7th, everything we thought we knew was shattered,” Adi Vaxman of Fair Lawn said.
Watching footage of the attacks in the south of her native country on the late-night news, she saw a pickup truck full of armed terrorists inside a kibbutz. She immediately messaged a team member from her company, Sheba Consulting, who lives in Kfar Aza, near the border.
“She was locked in her safe room with bullets flying around outside,” Ms. Vaxman said. “I was texting with her for 26 hours straight until they got out.
“Since then, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what happened. I felt if I don’t do something, the grief and pain and fear would kill me. I was raised by Holocaust survivors with the absolute knowledge that having our own country is an insurance policy that this would never happen again.”
The Israeli-American businesswoman has mobilized action for Israel during past crises and has done so again this time, at a higher level than ever before.
She launched Operation Israel operationisrael.org with a volunteer staff in Israel and the United States. She claims to have raised approximately $6.2 million in donations from “600 or 700 people” to procure and send supplies, such as medical equipment and protective gear, to fighting units that have requested these items.
“On Sunday afternoon, some people who know me and know I’ve done similar things started reaching out to me and said they had family members on the frontlines,” she said.
“People in elite units and civil defense units who know me started reaching out too, and my WhatsApp became a war zone. I found out there were a lot of shortages on the ground, and I reached out to people I know to donate.”
Ms. Vaxman set up a form for requests from the Israeli side and began fundraising and planning the logistics of how to get things there.
“I found a bunch of people online who wanted to do the same thing, and I vetted them to make sure they are legitimate, and we started putting it all together using infrastructure from my company,” she said. “We started by ordering from suppliers in Israel; donors sent me money, or sent the suppliers money, and people from the units picked up the goods.”
But by October 10 the supplier cupboards were bare in Israel and didn’t get stocked again until a week or two later. In the interim, volunteers here did domestic procurement and shipping, and volunteers in Israel received and distributed the merchandise.
“I teamed up with another Fair Lawn resident, Guy Drori, who owns a logistics company, to start getting stuff out. First, we got it on planes in suitcases. At one point we had 80 pallets of equipment waiting to go out. We teamed up with another group in Israel that takes the shipments, distributes them, and verifies they got to the right place.”
She knows that many well-meaning Americans have sent countless duffel bags filled with items that are not usable. She also knows of some unscrupulous suppliers attempting to defraud and otherwise take advantage of people’s good intentions.
“I was aware that people were buying ceramic vests in REI and Targaet and sending them to Israel, so from the very beginning we made sure to source things only through IDF-approved suppliers in Israel or DOD-approved suppliers here,” Ms. Vaxman said.
“We are very concerned about the suitability of the equipment that gets to the field. We have volunteers in Israel vetting our contacts, suppliers, and requests that go through our online system. A lot of these volunteers are IDF veterans and have a deep understanding and connections within the army.”
She said Operation Israel is “super concerned about security from a data perspective and also from the perspective of making sure the equipment gets where it’s supposed to get. And to avoid the risk of bringing Trojan horses into Israel, everything has to come from a verified source. We are not sourcing electronics from outside of Israel to avoid these risks.”
If a unit requests 400 of seven different items, Ms. Vaxman’s volunteers ask specific IDF doctors, logistics officers, and battalion commanders to help them prioritize what is lifesaving over what is “nice to have.”
To ensure that everything gets where it needs to go, “the only people dealing with the distribution of equipment are close friends and family, including my father-in-law,” she continued. “They transport things and give us updates every step of the way. We have a customs agent whose warehouse we pay to use so we get clear documentation for the larger shipments.”
Operation Israel donors have a range of choices. Some prefer to pay suppliers directly. Some prefer to send large donations through partnering nonprofits. Others have contributed to a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, and still others click on an Amazon gift registry set up by the organization, decide which items to buy, and then have them delivered to Ms. Vaxman for shipping.
Several long-existing organizations for the welfare of Israeli soldiers also are raising funds and procuring supplies requested by IDF units.
Ms. Vaxman said she “explored partnerships, but most of these organizations wanted us to raise funds for them and give them control. This is not something I can agree to because I am accountable to our donors. I felt we were going to lose control of disbursing the things we were asked for. My team needs to know at any given time where everything is, and I will not give up that level of control.”
Because it’s not the first time Ms. Vaxman has run aid projects, she said, “we can do things faster. We figured out logistical hurdles and challenges pretty quickly.”
Her entire family is involved in the effort.
“My husband, Ronen, is running pieces of the sourcing operation,” she said. “My son Tavorr, 20, was starting a semester abroad at Hebrew University and was in Italy that weekend, and of course the semester got canceled and I brought him home — kind of against his will because he wanted to join the IDF, but I told him I need him here. He’s doing all the inventory, tracking, and packing, preparing customs forms, and doing the airport runs.
“My daughter, Maya, runs our Instagram page. She’s 16. My son Ethan, who’s almost 12, is packing, counting, and labeling.”
Ms. Vaxman came to the United States in 1998 and moved to Fair Lawn in 2002, when she was pregnant with Tavorr.
Right now she’s thinking about the soldiers, including her brother and her cousin, who are starting to experience cold nights, especially in the north. So now she’s filling requests for items such as neck gaiters and handwarmers.
“This sounds trivial, but they can’t get handwarmers in Israel,” she said. “Here you can get them for next to nothing, and it makes a big difference to people out on patrol for six, seven hours.
“We can get them that stuff.”
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