July 18, 2024
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A Special Space for Smiles in a Time of War

Jeffrey Mark always strives to make people happy through his projects. Under normal circumstances those projects are high-end architecture and home design projects, and those people are his clients. Last week Mark transformed his Jerusalem design center into a respite center, in efforts to bring smiles and some serenity to displaced Israeli children and their families.

As the streets of Israel were solemn and still with many businesses closed since the Simchat Torah terror attack, the J. Mark Interiors showroom on King David Street sat quietly as well. With so many of their family members and loved ones deployed, Mark and his team knew they too could be of service somehow, even if far from the front lines. Little did they know that up the street at the Eldan Hotel were families in need, families who had fled their homes in Gaza border communities.

Mark received a visit from friend Jonathan Feldstein of Genesis 123 and Sara Grunhaus of the Isaiah Project, both working with interfaith organizations to raise needed funds for Israel. Feldstein had made aliyah from New Jersey around the same time as Mark. He and Grunhaus were now coordinating to help people from Ashkelon, Sderot and surrounding regions, people who had been hunkered in their shelters for days at a time with very few resources. Grunhaus had been personally delivering food, water and basic supplies, driving under constant barrage of attacks until the trips became unnavigable.

Determined to take these families out of harm’s way, 20 rooms were booked in the Eldan Hotel for the refugee families. Close to 60 people arrived, including young children and an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor who fought in the Yom Kippur War, all traumatized from what they had experienced. Following the many funerals and the horrible losses, they were grateful for some respite, to finally see the sun and sit in relative peace without the sound of sirens.

“It was the first time they could sit and not be afraid of a rocket or a siren. We need to keep them safe and sound for a few more weeks,” said Grunhaus. “Suddenly they are smiling, and it’s just amazing to see them smiling.”

Hearing their plight, Mark immediately sprang into action. J. Mark Interiors was transformed into a recreation center for the children and their families. Within hours the glamorous showroom was occupied by craft tables and filled with art supplies, games and toys. In came a cotton candy machine and a huge Israeli flag hung from the ceiling. Uplifting Hebrew music permeated throughout, with singing and a guitar session later in the night. Parents relaxed and enjoyed a few moments of respite while the children played. They remarkably sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” even amid all the loss of life they had encountered.

“We have our whole J. Mark team here working on this and it’s just beautiful to see the children smile,” said Mark. “The best part was helping them all focus on something other than the death and destruction they had witnessed.”

The next day featured a petting zoo with a special presentation for the children. Activities continued after the weekend with a keyboardist, karaoke, face painting, movies, popcorn, pizza and falafel. Later in the week a flower arrangement workshop is planned and a barbecue dinner. Therapeutic arts and crafts is on the schedule along with other therapy and support for the adults.

Mark now has a growing team of volunteers, with seminary girls coming from Midreshet Moriah and of course, his whole family, including wife Hayley Gerszberg-Mark and daughter Simona, a recent bride who lost best friend Mai in the massacre.

Working and living in both Israel and the U.S., including a J. Mark Interiors showroom in Cedarhurst, New York and a home in Teaneck, keep the couple connected to people around the world. Mark is not only happy to open up his showroom; he’s been using his social media resources to spread the word. His efforts aren’t going unnoticed and many clients, friends and followers have reached out to him to see how they too can help.

While the J. Mark showroom was bustling with the Parshat Noach zoo, another space was being arranged across town. A generous and compassionate client had offered up their new Jerusalem home to host six families who had fled the Gaza envelope town of Netivot. Colleague Avi Goldberg from City of Gold Apartments and his team, plus countless volunteers, spent hours stocking the pantries and preparing their home and kitchen to welcome the evacuees for a restful Shabbat.

Aside from the much needed funds for continued lodging and meals for the displaced families, Mark reiterated, “Lifting spirits is a high priority.” Mark and his team plan to do their part for as long as possible to make sure there can be smiles to combat the sadness in the difficult weeks to come.

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