|Chaya Goldsmith, right, with other volunteers at a Hazon Yeshaya soup kitchen during Sukkot.|
On her twice-yearly trips to Israel from New Jersey, Chaya Goldsmith has steamed rice at a Hazon Yeshaya soup kitchen, picked vegetables for Leket national food bank, assisted the elderly at the Yad LeKashish: Lifeline for the Old, made signs for the ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center bike-a-thon, danced with children at Keren Or-Jerusalem Center for Blind Children with Multiple Disabilities, and whatever else she can do to assist a variety of Israeli charitable endeavors.
It is not that Goldsmith ignores needs in her own backyard – she has also volunteered as a matchmaker, Kosher Meals on Wheels driver, and worker in a Bergen County homeless shelter and hospital.
“There are needs here, too, but in Israel it’s for the Jewish people,” says Goldsmith, one of several local residents organizing a Nov. 12 dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park to benefit Hazon Yeshaya. The largest humanitarian network in Israel, Hazon Yeshaya offers services to orphans, terror victims, Holocaust survivors, victims of abuse, sick and disabled people, and single-parent families. Its nutrition program provides 400,000 meals every month, and it runs free dental clinics, after-school programs, and vocational classes.
“I read about the organization years ago in The Jewish Standard and I always like to do volunteer work when I’m in Israel, so I decided to check it out,” says Goldsmith, who was back in the soup kitchen during Sukkot. Her husband, Mark, and his law partners recently helped ALYN open a facility to house parents visiting their hospitalized children.
The Goldsmiths, who live in Teaneck, are among many North Jersey residents who do much more than write checks to charitable groups in the Holy Land.
“Aside from touring or visiting relatives and shopping, it’s become part of the accepted routine to set aside time to volunteer during a trip to Israel,” says Shoshana Shore, a former Edison resident who now works at Jerusalem-based Ohr Meir & Bracha: The Terror Victims Support Center. Each Thursday, volunteers help assemble hundreds of Shabbat food baskets for families laid low by terrorism.
“I play ‘Jewish geography’ with whoever comes through the door, and I find that many of our volunteers, whether adults or bar/bat mitzvah kids or students here for a year after high school, are from New Jersey,” says Shore.
Looking at the guestbook, she notes volunteers clocking in from Englewood, Clifton-Passaic, Upper Saddle River, Fair Lawn, Teaneck, and Bergenfield.
Last year, the organization’s founder, Leora Tedgi, hosted a bat mitzvah party for girls coming to volunteer with Chana Reichman, the rebbetzin of Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue. On these regular jaunts, the girls and moms not only pack vegetables and challah but also “twin” with similarly aged girls among the group’s 400 client families.
“There’s a connection between Jews no matter where they live,” says Tedgi. She relies on the good will of Jews outside of Israel to contribute both time and money. “We cannot do it ourselves; we need help from our ‘family’ abroad.”
Many of these involved donors choose one or two organizations as the focus of their overseas benevolence. For example, Steven and Eileen David of Englewood dedicated a playground at Sanhedria Children’s Home in Jerusalem and visit the home whenever they are in Israel.
“I meet the Davids every time they come to Israel, and they are always interested in the children’s welfare,” says Miriam Braun, director of program development at this residential treatment center for boys with a history of severe abuse.
Sanhedria is partially supported by the Ministry of Welfare, but depends on others to provide everything from new school backpacks to sufficient professional staffing.
“We take it on ourselves to give the extras and hope the Jewish community will help us,” says Braun. “Year after year, Bergen County gets very good representation because many yeshiva high school graduates from this area volunteer here, and they tell their parents and friends and rabbis. The parents get very enthusiastic and often come to visit us when they’re here.”
Many North Jersey bar mitzvah celebrants hold their parties at Sanhedria and donate gift money as well. “All of this helps our boys heal, and makes their orbit a sunnier place,” Braun says.
ALYN is another favorite. Teams of riders from Bergen County fly over for the Wheels of Love bike-a-thon year after year. On Nov. 6-10, Jeff Erdfarb of Teaneck plans to participate in his 11th ride.
“I feel it’s important to help children anywhere they might live, especially children with physical handicaps,” he says, noting that about half the patients at ALYN are Arabs. “I feel it can help bridge the gaps between people,” he says. “Anything you can do to help Israel is very important, and I’ve made unbelievable friends on these trips over the years, both American and Israeli.”
Not surprisingly, children’s charities resonate strongly with active donors.
The Parker families of Englewood – brothers Drew, Jeffrey, and Michael – joined their brother and sister four years ago to establish the Shirley Margolin Parker Home for Infants at Bet Elezraki, an Emunah residential facility for 240 Israeli children from abusive homes.
“After our mother passed away, my four siblings and I were looking for a way to honor her as a family,” explains Michael Parker. “My mother had a real, genuine, heartfelt passion for Israel and a very deep genuine love for children, so we met with the head of the home. He said there was a need, unfortunately, for a place for infants who had been abused or neglected and they hadn’t been able to serve that segment.”
Following a 2006 trip to Israel to assess the situation, the Parkers helped Bet Elezraki purchase and renovate a building to accommodate about 14 babies and young children in crisis. “My mother imbued that love of Israel in all of us, so we blended that with the opportunity to help children she felt strongly about,” says Parker.
Seventeen years ago, Teaneck residents Becky and Daniel Wolf donated $1,000 of their engagement gift money to Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS) in Ra’anana, which provides a range of services to children with special needs.
“We tried to pick one place to give a significant donation every year,” says Becky Wolf. “We wanted it to be in Israel and something to do with children. My husband served in the Israeli army and we both spent a year here post-high school and felt a strong connection to Israel.”
Over Sukkot, the Wolfs – now board members of the American Friends of BIS and yearly visitors with their three kids – were at the facility celebrating their daughter Gabriella’s becoming a bat mitzvah. A student at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, Gabriella raised more than $5,000 for BIS and brought books to Liri, a 12-year-old BIS student.
Wolf notes that BIS’s innovations in special needs are known worldwide, and physical therapists in North Jersey are familiar with its methods. The organization established Friendship Park, Israel’s first fully accessible and inclusive playground, whose design and programs are being replicated in Israel and other countries.
“Every year for the past four years, I have been selling mishloach manot [Purim baskets] to benefit Beit Issie, and when our youngest was born I asked for donations instead of gifts,” says Wolf. “Even if I get just one person to look at their website and donate, it’s worth it.”