Just in time for Hanukkah and just weeks after the start of the Hamas-Israeli War, two local Hadassah chapters in the Los Angeles South Bay area, Adira and L’Dor V’Dor, collected over $9,000 through grassroots, word-of-mouth initiatives to help teenage victims of the war.
The initiative was born at our two chapters’ “Welcome New Members” luncheon in Manhattan Beach. It began as a simply stated thought, a wish, really, of one woman while we were making other group decisions. We all chipped in and raised a little over $100 in the blink of an eye.
Petty cash. Bountiful hearts.
Shortly after this luncheon, I wrote “Save Our People” for The Times of Israel Blogs about the angst I was feeling as an American who is Jewish and the target of antisemitism. I read the blog to my writers’ group, which has no connection to Hadassah. While there are only two Jewish members in the group, by the end of the meeting, almost $500 was put into a plastic baggie and we had the beginnings of something wonderful.
They say a dream is a wish your heart makes. It’s true.
Next, my mahjong group and I, all Hadassah members, decided to put the winnings of the day into a pishke (a container to save money for charity) and let it grow, not knowing how far we would get with this informal campaign or what could really develop. We collected almost $20 that day. Soon, many of our Hadassah sisters were doing the same at their mahjong games.
Next, salespeople at local shops, when they heard of our plan, began tossing in hard-earned cash. Before we knew it, our Hadassah L’Dor V’Dor and Adira chapters were opening envelopes with large donations. Then the president of the Adira chapter had a brainstorm: Let’s see what we can buy with these cash donations that those Israeli kids need.
We had lists, we had addresses to which we could send the items and we had cash. It turned out that Old Navy was having great sales this time of year, so we used our store points to buy gift cards, which our campaign team then converted to wearables and other supplies the Israeli teens needed.
Before we knew it, we had 360 different pieces of clothing: beanies, long-and short-sleeved tops, pants, underwear and lots and lots of socks, as well as backpacks and water bottles, art supplies, puzzles, games and American chocolate bars. We had launched a “send-a-card project,” too, which yielded over 125 handwritten cards and letters.
We had bought so many things that we realized we needed packing supplies and an airplane. An airplane?! We wondered who had connections to El Al Airlines or any other company that was allowed to fly cargo to Israel. How could we arrange for our gift to be transported to the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village, the intended recipient of our gifts, recommended by our local Hadassah Los Angeles Metro office?
We began packing up the gifts. We ended up with two pallets and 39 large cartons ready for transport but still no way to have them flown to Israel. Drew Leach, a member of a local synagogue, heard about our dilemma and stepped in. Her connections to secure air transport to Israel were a blessing. We are deeply appreciative of Drew’s help.
Located in Netanya, the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village is home to 350 at-risk teens ranging in age from 11 to 18. They are often the victims of poverty, drugs and/or domestic abuse and other challenges. Rescuing refugees from the war in Ukraine, the village has absorbed many more youngsters and has expanded its language and cultural curricula and mental health services.
Recently, Hadassah Neurim’s population swelled to even larger numbers as it absorbed many teens who lost their parents, extended family, friends and homes to the Hamas massacre.
I am proud to be a member of the Hadassah L’Dor V’Dor chapter. I have even more respect now for my Hadassah sisters, who made this initiative for Israeli teens so successful so quickly. Through this initiative, we in California let the kids in Hadassah Neurim know they are not forgotten and that we wish them well. We are here for them — with love.
Ronnie Katz Gerber is a member of the Hadassah Educators Council.