February 26, 2024
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Riverdale IDF-Israel Effort Gets Results

Abby Marcus loading cases of Gefen soups for IDF soldiers. (Credit: Robert Kalfus)

Following the October 7 atrocities, while considering Israel’s needs in its aftermath, Abby Marcus of Riverdale sought ways she could help. By October 9, she was on the phone with friends in Israel thinking of what she could do.

“It all started with Chayal No. 1, who was in America building sukkahs,” Marcus explained. “He was going back to Israel for miluim [army reserve duty]. I put a request in a few Riverdale WhatsApp groups requesting duffels and posted my Venmo information. We wanted to send some supplies with him, such as gloves and fleece jackets. I went to Costco and brought them to Teaneck.”

After dropping off duffels to Chayal No. 1, Marcus said, “I kept pushing a little bit more. ‘What else do you need?’ The Chayal responded, “I have another friend going back. Maybe we can send supplies with him for his unit. It just grew.” From there, Marcus raised money and continued buying supplies. Four months later, her efforts continue to grow.

Inspired by her parents’ Marcella and Robbie Marcus’ community involvement, “I had a feeling of helplessness from abroad,” Marcus said. “The fact that I have family and friends in Israel on the line; they’re the ones leading and I’m sitting here somewhat more comfortable. What can we do from here? How can we ease the burden? How can we help?”

Marcus recently posted on the 200+ member WhatsApp chat she created, Riverdale IDF/Israel Effort, “We have sent 425 duffel bags so far! Together we’ve raised over $85,000, sending hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated gear and supplies. We match bags with passengers, 145+ flight meet-ups and more to come, donated by the Riverdale community and friends of our community. Amazing volunteers bring over supplies, help sort and pack bags. Chayalim and ZAKA assisted; kibbutzim/communities as well.”

Marcus said: “I call myself the ‘bag shadchan,’ matching products with passengers. We’re a conduit, helping get donated goods across the finish line.” She sends WhatsApp messages, if anyone knows someone flying to Israel via El Al willing to take bags.

Early on Marcus was just showing up at the airport with these bags. She now contacts El Al directly. At first, many duffel bags came from people’s homes. Then, a generous donor sponsored 50 duffels. Now she has a “bring-back” system, a drop-off in Yerushalayim. Volunteers return bags to America to be used again. Marcus remarked how recipients are “overcome by the generosity of the community. Seeing the hashgacha pratis in this has really been affirming. What we’re doing is proof that Am Yisrael can come together to make a difference.”

Marcus explained: “I think people don’t really understand what goes into this. It’s not just putting a bag on a plane and going home. You need to make sure that El Al has the allocation space on the plane; you can lock in the donation bag rate; make sure donated items are accompanied by customs letters, connecting donors, passengers and recipients—it’s a full-fledged operation.” Marcus learned how to navigate Israel’s customs procedures, after receiving a 2 a.m. call that volunteers were stuck at Ben-Gurion Airport needing a customs letter.

Marcus’s group has sent supplies for chayalim, evacuees and reservists’ families. Items include body powder, multi-tools, headlamps, gloves, watches, thermals, hand warmers, socks, power tools, sleeping bags, jackets, Dri-Fit underwear, coats, shoes and boots. Someone has contacted her because they wanted to organize gifts for postpartum mothers with reservist husbands.

Riverdale IDF/Israel Effort WhatsApp chat member Miriam Szafranski said: “She made her own network of people. I’m just so impressed by the logistics to do all of this. She is just one person who relies on community support and community help. Volunteers do help with efforts, but it’s her own logistical genius and the goodness of her heart that’s making all this happen.”

With a full-time job as a compliance officer at an asset management firm and an art business on the side, Marcus is so appreciative of all the volunteers. “I can’t do this on my own. It’s important to be able to rely on people in your community to help, and to be able to ask for help.

“There are a lot of special people in Am Yisrael; just open your eyes and you’ll start to notice.”

Contact [email protected] for additional information or to request joining the WhatsApp group.

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