YouTube appeal for gift baskets for troops exceeds expectations

YouTube appeal for gift baskets for troops exceeds expectations

Imagine what Esther and Mordechai could have accomplished with YouTube.

A local synagogue has seized upon the latest Internet technology to send the Purim message to far-flung U.S. Jewish troops and raise funds for gift packages, or mishloach manot.

The YouTube message, performed as a good-natured spoof of an Oval Office address, has exceeded expectations. The Jewish Standard wrote about the spoof on Feb. ‘.

In conjunction with the Jewish Chaplains Council, headquartered in New York, Kehillat Kesher, a modern Orthodox shul in Englewood, has sent more than 150 Purim gift packages to Jewish servicemen and women in Afghanistan. The synagogue originally projected funds for about 100 packages.

Army Chaplain Rabbi Shmuel Felzenberg, right, stationed in Afghanistan, hands a care package from Kehilat Kesher to Capt. Joshua Knobel. Photo courtesy Chaplain Shmuel Felzenberg

Donations have come from across the country, according to Kesher president David Polinsky, who plays a U.S. president in the YouTube comedy short.

It may be the first time the phrase "my fellow Americans" has been coupled with "mishloach manot."

"Because it takes quite bit of time to ship overseas, we sent several thousand dollars worth of goods" that were "special requests from the chaplains from Iraq and Afghanistan," Polinsky said.

As funds continue to arrive, he said, "we will be shifting to sending Pesach packages, to keep sending stuff over depending on requests as money is raised."

So far, the synagogue has have raised more than $4,000. Jewish soldiers sent requests for items such as rugelach, gefilte fish, and Jewish reading material, Polinsky said. They also requested more secular products like movies and magazines, synagogue trustee Phyllis Freilich added.

Children from Kesher’s junior congregation and Kol HaNeshamah, a Conservative synagogue also in Englewood, wrote letters to the soldiers.

Participants sent money for care packages through an online PayPal account accessible on the synagogue’s Website,

The packages were assembled earlier this month by Freilich and two other congregants, Jocelyn Jonas and Tovit Schultz Granoff.

Freilich kept in e-mail contact with a chaplain and lay leader abroad, Army Specialist Gavin Melvin, stationed in Iraq, and Rabbi Shmuel Felzenberg in Afghanistan.

"My husband is in the Navy Reserve and I am just always thinking of things that can be done, little things I can do to make things easier for people in the military," Freilich said of her role in suggesting the project.

Freilich’s husband, Benjamin, a history buff, designed his office to resemble the Oval Office as a backdrop for the YouTube short. Other members also contributed, including Uri Rottenberg, owner of New Year Video, and Michael Dube, who played the Secret Service agent standing behind Polinsky tugging at a disembodied phone cord.

"I had been wanting to use this medium to promote something worthwhile for a long time," Michael Granoff, vice president of Kesher, wrote in an e-mail from Israel, where he was attending a conference. "So the six of us took an evening at the Freilichs and ran a number of takes, had a great time, and got the piece filmed (as well as did a few different scripts others of which may be used in the future). Uri did a great job weaving in the presidential touches."

The YouTube promotional video is located at


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