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Project Yechi: Daily Giving Meets Emunah

We are just days away from the Project Yechi barbecue on Motzei Shabbat, September 10, and I am glad to be able to share this article with you. It’s been sitting in draft form for a few years. You see, the last time Project Yechi was able to host their famous outdoor barbecue was pre-COVID, in 2019. I remember signing in and holding a bag of more than $300 in $1 bills. When I explained why, Jackie Feigenbaum, Chaim’s a”h father, asked me to share my story, so here goes:

For many years, it bothered me that when I gave a few coins or a dollar to tzedaka in shul, I didn’t feel a deep connection to the mitzvah. The reason was that I wasn’t sure where that money was going, and it felt like dropping a dollar into the abyss. I wondered: Was it going to an organization or to the shul? Would my money be used for the theme of the organization or was it going to pay the budget? I often feel that I need a personal connection to where I am donating or what I am doing to feel a sense of fulfillment while doing it.

This especially applies to mitzvot, which I know are extremely important on an intellectual level, but it’s not always so easy to make a spiritual connection. This is the same feeling as putting on a pair of tzitzit that you have tied. When it comes to tzedaka, there is something special about having a personal connection to where you are donating your money, whether it is supporting aniim, cholim, limmud Torah, a school, your shul, whatever it may be. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger has shared over the course of many shiurim how important it is to find a cause that speaks to you personally, something that you have an almost divine connection with. He said that when you feel that connection, it may be a clear sign that is where Hashem wants you to direct your support.

Growing up in Chicago, I have a very distinct memory of one particular morning at Shacharit. I was davening alongside Rabbi Yisrael Bernath, currently a Lubavitch Chabad shliach in Montreal. As we approached “osher v’kavod” in Vayivarech David, Rabbi Bernath reached into his tallit bag, pulled out a small coin pouch and a tzedaka box, and tossed a few coins in. I had never seen someone do that before, but he explained that when the container was full, he would donate the money and knew exactly where it was going and what it was being used for. As a young teenager, I remember thinking this practice was a great idea, but I didn’t do anything about it. For years, I gave tzedaka at Shacharit and periodically recalled the memory of Rabbi Bernath and his tallit bag tzedaka box. Inevitably, the rush of a weekday morning sent that memory flying as my mind quickly refocused on what was next on the agenda for the rest of my day.

That was until one chilly Motzei Shabbat in 2018, when I arrived at the annual Motzei Shabbat Project Yechi barbecue. Before me laid the three giveaways found at the entrance table every year: a small flashlight; an “Emunah—It’s all from Hashem’’ bumper sticker that can be seen on hundreds of cars and minivans in Bergen County, and finally, their small, white, Project Yechi tzedaka can.

In that very moment, standing in the starlit, dark sky outside Keter Torah, a lightbulb went on in my brain. Something clicked, and as I picked up the tzedaka can, I felt an incredible call to action: “This is important, this is my opportunity to feel connected to donating tzedaka, the same way I saw Rabbi Bernath do so many years ago.” Right then and there, I committed to leaving this can in my tallit bag so that I could donate tzedaka each weekday morning, and by doing so, I would create an increased connection to the mitzvah I performed. This was my opportunity to contribute in a small way to an organization doing amazing things every single day.

And so I did exactly that. And at Shacharit on Sunday morning, I reached the pasuk … reached into my wallet and pulled out a $1 bill. But I also noticed that there were only two more $1 bills. What would I do on Wednesday? It became very clear that as excited as I was, this was going to take some planning. How could I be sure I would always have $1 bills to donate?

The solution was obvious, but it was a bit of a chore. And you guessed it, the very next day, on a lunch break, I walked to my local bank and withdrew $100 in singles. I would go on to make that trip every few months. And it worked. Slowly but surely, the Project Yechi can filled up and overflowed with $1 bills, which I finally moved to a 1-gallon zip-close bag—the same one I carried into Project Yechi that night.

A little detour …When I first learned about Project Yechi, I was inspired by their cause and also by the courage of Chaim Feigenbaum, a”h, whom I never had the privilege to meet. Living an observant life is amazing and fulfilling, but it is also challenging and demanding. Being a dedicated husband/wife and parent, maintaining a successful career, keeping up with life’s obstacles is both rewarding and oftentimes extremely difficult. However, the one place that brings it all together is your home. It’s your safe place that is familiar and comforting, where you can take a deep breath and relax, where memories are forged at the Shabbat table, at night tucking in your children, at backyard barbecues and football games. It’s a place to read and learn, and of course, what could be better than your bed waiting, welcoming you after a long, hard day, inviting you in to recharge? To quote Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” “There’s no place like home … there’s no place like home…”

And now imagine that in addition to all of life’s tugging you in several directions on a daily basis, a family member has cancer and your home is in jeopardy, chas v’shalom. All of the effort and energy that went into making a living and financially and emotionally supporting your family is going to your battle with cancer. And if that is not enough, now your home, your familiar, safe space is endangered because you are temporarily unable to work and unable to pay your rent or mortgage, Chas v’shalom, we should never know of such a challenge. And as you lie there, wondering how much more time you have in this world, and how you will pay the bills this month, you receive a call from Project Yechi saying, “You’ve got a big enough battle to fight, you don’t need to worry about losing your home, too. We’ve got this.” Simply incredible.

From the stories I have heard about Chaim, he was a true baal emunah (master of faith). As he stared death in the face, instead of cowering and letting fear consume him, he found the courage to use his emunah to strengthen himself and his relationship with Hashem. And lay the foundation for this incredible organization. It’s one thing to say we have emunah, and it’s an entirely different experience to be put to the test, when things don’t make any sense, and maybe things even look hopeless and you feel completely broken.

Saying that all of this is from Hashem in those moments is a monumental test. In those moments, instead of getting upset or depressed, if you find the courage to put your brain on the side, so to speak, and choose to walk the path of emunah, you are a spiritual giant. Chaim did this. He was a quiet hero. And in Chaim’s spirit of emunah, hundreds of bumpers in New Jersey are adorned with the familiar thought “Emunah—It’s all from Hashem.” How much chizuk have those bumper magnets brought over the years? How many people have been stuck in traffic in our community, having a rough day or working through a particular challenge and see that magnet, and think to themselves, “Hey, that’s right. It really is all from Hashem,” only to be personally strengthened? Will we ever know?

Each morning when I add a dollar into the tzedakah can, I imagine that in a small way I am contributing to someone’s rent or mortgage and helping them breathe a little easier and focus on their battle with cancer.

So as I prepare to hand in my fourth bag of $1 bills, my daily donation has become an automatic part of Shacharit for me personally. And guess what? You can do it just as easily. With very little, yet consistent effort, great things can be achieved.

I have a challenge for you. I challenge you to take the “daily tzedaka challenge” by making a small, yet consistent effort to donate a dollar a day and increase your connection to the mitzvah of tzedaka … ideally to Project Yechi.

Thank you, Project Yechi for your incredible organization, and keep up your incredible mission. For further details, visit www.projectyechi.org.

Avi Zimmerman is a Bergenfield resident, husband and father. He can be reached at [email protected]

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