Bears from Bergenfield, a grassroots mitzvah project, begun its collection, sorting, and redistribution site from the compact garage on Deerfield St in Bergenfield, NJ, is turning 18 today.
A very happy bear-day!
My son Sam was 10 1/2 at the time and thought of this project. He considered that Build a bear was “popping” and quite popular. He was sure that each child would want to amass hundreds of such toys and pass them on to another child when done playing with them. I even called the creator of Build a bear, Maxine Clark, to figure out if we could receive donations from them. We did! Only the first donation was of four dozen Christmas themed teddy bears. I laughed. We were shipping almost solely to Jewish Israeli children at the time and I wondered who there would want a Christmas teddy bear? Our second donation from them was of one dozen Chanukah bears. I giggled. Of course we could definitely use those toys here and in Israel. We were set to role.
Take a look at what’s popular and trending today. I wish that I had captured in pictures more of the toys that we amassed back then. Mostly bears wearing their hearts on their sleeves, with open and embracing arms. Of course. It made so much sense then. I bet that we could still relate.
To rewind just a bit, I had been hired in 2002 as the “mitzvah manager” at our local Hebrew school in Bergenfield, called Cong. Beth Israel, to dream up assorted projects such as “with hands on mitzvah projects” for our local and at large community. I had just completed BFF pins called Pins for Peace for the Bergen County Hebrew schools and Yeshivot in our region. We had successfully created over 6500 + pins to ship to Israeli children suffering from the second Intifada fallout with our regional shaliach. He just happened to live in the town next over in Dumont, and didn’t mind stopping by to pick up our child backpack friendly and compatible newest creations of these pins. We were copying the idea of fashioning American flags from beads and pins that had been assembled in honor of the fallen of 9/11. We reasoned that there were fallen everywhere from terrorism and everyone could use a pick me up, a boost.
In stepped Sam, my oldest child, also a student at the local Hebrew school. He thought that the pins could open up at the clasp and hurt a child. He wanted a project that was safer and more manageable. He thought sending over toys and teddy bears to the Israeli children. He considered that this project would be much safer for the children and therefore much more appreciated. He thought of his own appreciation and enjoyment hugging a teddy bear when stressed and distressed. He thought that the children dealing with the fallout of the Second Intifada in Israel could use a bear to hug and to hold. He didn’t know how to get the toys collected, sorted, counted, cleaned, bagged, and shipped over and to which locations and destinations? But that was left for me to figure out.
After 18 years, we have collected close to 195,000 recycled and brand new teddy bears and stuffed toys for redistribution in Israel and also here, locally, as well. From the mouth of children, come pearls of mitzvot.
We were still redistributing the toys to all people of different races and religions, thanks to “Day of Giving” at the MLK center, sponsored and arranged by Rabbi Ethan J Katz, USA NCSY, missions leader. That was until a month or two ago, sending bear hugs to the survivors of Covid. Covid stopped us cold. The fear of contracting Covid, has slowed our operation down to snail’s pace, closer to a complete stall.
Post Covid, we will be up and running once again to continue to send out those much needed bear hugs. We will continue to bear up.
In the meantime, I will plan on telling our story, as we reach out to yet, one more child with open bear arms with one more teddy bear hug to adopt, claim, and share.
Shalom, Rabbi Claire Ginsburg Goldstein, Director of Bears from Bergenfield (NJ).
The teddy bear Rabbi “Let’s get all of those Build a bears and other bears adopted today!”