It was a bright and sunny day. A cool breeze swept along our cheeks as my brother Yona and I approached the huge double doors of the Yad Eliezer warehouse.
“Welcome!,” said Yossi Kaufman with a smile. “Braha, how are you?”
Yossi, Yad Eliezer’s Director of Public Relations, often leads groups who come to volunteer at the warehouse. He does a great job, and for one simple reason: he really cares about people. Yossi’s genuine warmth brings humor and ease wherever he goes.
After I had introduced Yossi to Yona, Yossi asked when the rest of our group would be arriving. I explained that Bubbe, Uncle Ian, Aunt Lorynne, and our cousins had just arrived in Israel the night before and would be joining us any minute. The family had flown in to celebrate Yona’s bar mitzvah along with the bar mitzvah of our cousin Josh from Toronto.
While we were waiting, Yossi introduced us to an older man with a deeply lined face and a generous Sabra smile. “Come on over,” he called enthusiastically from his chair in a corner. “We’ll get you to work making boxes!”
Thirteen-year-old Yona and I were graciously brought chairs and large tape guns by other warehouse workers. (Name) showed us how to use the tape guns on cardboard to create the brown boxes we would later fill with food staples and goodies for poor families.
Yona and I had fun figuring out how to best wield the hefty, handy tape guns. We had put together about twenty boxes when our family from Toronto, the Shores, arrived.
Greetings, hugs, and exclamations filled the air. We were soon all settled into a semi-circle with Yossi, who told us about the many needs that Yad Eliezer helps to fill. Better yet, a few minutes later, we got to lift up our sleeves and help out ourselves.
Every person in the family grabbed four boxes which we set down in two straight lines. A family assembly line on each side of the boxes kept products like rice, oil, barley, and other basic necessities moving into each box we had lined up. It was like a puzzle. Every product had a specific way it was to be fit into the box – Yossi showed us – in order to be able to fit the largest number of groceries into the limited space.
My favorite part came at the end. Once we had finished fitting in all the essential food items that Yad Eliezer provides for the needy every week, Yossi directed us to a huge plastic bin holding every kind of packaged food product you can imagine. You could have fit five children into that bin and had room to spare! From pasta to pretzels, jellybeans to hot pepper sauce, Yossi explained that we were to grab as much as we could and fill in any empty space left in the boxes.
“Are these the donated food items that Yad Eliezer collects door-to-door?,” I asked. My neighbors, the Freidmans, are the Yad Eliezer collectors for our building. Every week or two my husband and I get a knock on the door from one or a few of the Freidman kids holding open a large plastic bag with the Yad Eliezer logo and smiling sheepishly. I always ask them to wait a minute, then go to the kitchen and pull out a can or a bag of pasta from the cupboard to throw into the bag.
“Yes they are,” smiled Yossi broadly. I told my family how good it felt to see what happens to the groceries that I and my neighbors donate every week, and to imagine them actually going to needy families.
When we had used up all the donated groceries in one bin, Yossi called for a second bin to be driven over by a special machine. The second bin was filled to the brim with sweets! I especially enjoyed imagining how children would feel when they opened up their weekly food box to find chocolates, toffees, and marshmallows along with the regular packages of things like beans and flour. We covered several full boxes with large, flat, rectangular boxes of pralines before closing the cardboard over top and using the tape guns to seal them for delivery.
The family had a good time talking and laughing as we filled the boxes. We joked about some of the stranger groceries we found, like Green Tea Flavored Stir-Fry Noodles. The two bar-mitzvah boys teamed up to schlep some of the heavier items and put things back in their place when they were done, the beginning of a strengthened friendship that blossomed more and more each day of the visit. We took a family picture all piled up on top of a small but mighty orange warehouse cart.
It was a special time, not just because we had fun together, but because we knew that our efforts were directly aiding Jewish families in need. Many parties and activities would soon follow, but volunteering for Yad Eliezer was a great beginning for a truly meaningful bar-mitzvah.
Thank you, Yad Eliezer!