By Ruckie Greenbaum
The literal translation of “Tomchei Shabbos” is “supporters of the Shabbos.” But there is nothing literal, defined, or confined regarding this charitable organization. Tomchei was created in the late 1990s by Rabbi Dovid Shenker to help approximately 20 families who were in financial despair. It was designed to provide Friday night and Shabbos food for those who couldn’t afford to do so independently.
But as the economy declined, the number of affected families increased at a devastating rate. Volunteers were not discouraged, rather felt empowered by the challenges they chose to face head on. In a community where hundreds of tzedakah organizations reside, what sets Tomchei apart is its complete lack of anything extraneous in spending. There is no home base, which means no overhead. All members of Tomchei volunteer their time, money, energy, and effort with zero expectation other than the incomparable feeling that comes with helping those in a selfless and unrequited manner.
And if the regular struggle of daily life isn’t enough, Hurricane Sandy brought a new definition of crisis to our Five Towns community. Hundreds of our friends and neighbors are still displaced and many are unemployed.
In 2013, the number of families receiving assistance on a weekly basis exceeds 275, including single mothers and families with sick children. On a $600,000 yearly budget, money is in dire need. Noach Haller has joined the Tomchei team as its fundraising coordinator to help them reach their maximum potential for gathering funds. At present, the charity’s major event is their annual breakfast. A mailing is sent out to over 8,000 addresses with the hope that whoever can help, will. After a weekend of heavy snow, Amy and Ron Friedman graciously opened their Lawrence home on Sunday morning, February 10. The community’s response was overwhelming, and Tomchei started their Pesach collection on a high note.
As this holiday approaches, so many families are filled with anxiety and despair rather than excitement and hope. Tomchei needs a minimum of $100,000 to help these families find some sort of normalcy and happiness in the worst of times. They will be afforded the opportunity to celebrate Pesach with matzah, wine, chicken, and meat—a few of the symbols of a holiday that we take for granted. It is on the holiday of Pesach, a time when we reflect on our freedom and redemption as a nation, that the basic needs of our community must be a priority for us all. Several times throughout the Seder, we recline as a symbol of freedom and aristocracy. The help that Tomchei provides enables hundreds of families to bring these symbols and experiences to life.
Ari Schonbrun, who handles Tomchei’s Pesach program, makes sure each family is personally contacted to find out their specific needs—a head count, preference of hand or machine made shemurah matzah, wine or grape juice, and other details to make their yom tov special.
Giving with integrity is so much a part of Tomchei’s core belief. A number is given to each family, no names are used, to keep each recipient’s privacy and dignity intact. This is the definition of pure giving.
Every dollar collected does make a difference. It goes directly toward feeding a family for a Shabbos or yom tov. Options are even offered to feed a family for a specific block of time, or to be a sponsor for a specific item, such as wine or chicken for the upcoming Pesach program.
Tomchei Shabbos is a true charity for the community by the community. And as the Torah teaches and the public has so readily adopted as a universal statement: charity begins at home.
If you would like to make a donation to Tomchei Shabbos, visit www.yadyeshaya.org or call 347-604-3025.
Ruckie Greenbaum is the owner of the Blue Door bookstore and a freelance writer. v