April 8, 2024
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American Communities Helping Israel: A Mighty Sisterhood

(Courtesy of ACHI) What began as a group of grandmothers banding together to help bolster Israel’s economy has blossomed into an innovative nonprofit advocacy organization that continually invents new ways to raise money for Israel.

Giving a jumpstart to 2024, American Communities Helping Israel (ACHI) has donated more than $25,000 to Israel so far this year by embarking upon a number of creative endeavors to keep the money flowing. Donations have gone to lone soldiers; evacuees; IDF equipment and food supply; The Next Step, an organization that assists amputees; Standing Together, which provides coats for soldiers; and RFRO, which provides meals and children’s entertainment to families of active duty soldiers, to name just a few. Learn more on the ACHI website, www.achi613.org.

 

‘Support Israel — Buy Israeli’

ACHI is the brainchild of Suzanne Weilgus (of New Jersey and Florida), who wanted to do something constructive for Israeli merchants whose businesses were suffering during the Second Intifada in 2000. She organized a number of Israeli fairs based in the New York tri-state area and invited Israeli artisans to sell their wares. The fairs were extremely successful; one merchant remarked that he sold more in four hours at a fair than he had in the previous two years. In 2004, Weilgus founded ACHI with the mission of instilling love for Israel in this generation and the next.

With the onset of COVID, Weilgus and four former classmates from Yeshiva University High School, now all in their 70s, created the ACHI online marketplace to help Israeli merchants once again. They coined the mantra “Support Israel — Buy Israeli,” which became ACHI’s mission. The marketplace currently hosts close to 300 Israeli merchants, selling everything from art and jewelry to food and wine, to home goods and children’s toys. Most merchants ship to the U.S. and within Israel. ACHI makes no money from marketplace transactions; its website is merely a conduit to the websites of its merchants who not only get a boost from more sales but don’t have to cut into their profits to do so. Any Israeli shopkeeper can sign up online at no cost. The marketplace can be directly accessed at www.achi613.org/achi-market.

 

Call to Action

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack and resulting war in Gaza, the ACHI team realized they needed to take it up a notch. With the goal of raising money for the immediate benefit of those impacted by the war, the women of ACHI intensified their social media campaign, put together lucrative fundraising events, and created unique merchandise to sell.

ACHI held tag sales in Baltimore, Maryland and Englewood, New Jersey, selling artwork and other items donated by some of its online merchants. Weilgus organized two fundraisers for Israel in her Boynton Beach, Florida community. She recruited local talent, including a professional opera singer, to stage “A Musical Night for Israel” featuring Israeli songs that she and her friends had grown up listening to. The second event, “A Magical Night for Israel,” starred magician/mentalist Shlomo Levinger, whose grandmother was in the audience. The sold-out show was held at the Anshei Chesed Synagogue of Boynton Beach, which also donated space for ACHI exhibit tables.

Both shows received rave reviews and raised thousands of dollars. Before and after the performances, ACHI members were able to promote the online marketplace and recruit volunteers to help sell their latest creation: Shabbat Shalom Israel cards.

Although ACHI has been selling Purim ecards for a number of years, the Shabbat Shalom Israel cards are a new, out-of-the-box invention. Designed by ACHI member Tova Taragin of Baltimore, the cards feature beautiful artwork by five Israeli artists from the online marketplace. Each card represents a Shabbat meal provided by Lema’an Achai in Israel for families of soldiers and evacuees and for bereaved families of soldiers and others who lost their lives on Oct. 7. Shabbat Shalom Israel cards may be used as hostess gifts when invited for Shabbat or to commemorate any other occasion. They can also be framed and hung on the wall. In the first week of sales alone, ACHI sold enough cards to cover 122 meals.

The ACHI team are all volunteers, lending their time and talents to a cause they fervently believe in. Rochelle Zupnik (of New Jersey and Florida) connects with Jewish community leaders, educators and publications. Florida resident Gloria Gordon serves as CFO. Gordon and Taragin have also taken it upon themselves to learn the skills necessary to maintain ACHI’s website. ACHI’s newest members are Marcia Wagner, who joined in 2014 and contributes her writing and networking skills, and Barbara Greenwald, a former community journalist who joined in 2023; both from Baltimore.

More ACHI ventures to benefit Israel are sure to come, so stay tuned To donate or volunteer time, go to www.achi613.org, or email [email protected]

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