April 17, 2024
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Shimon Shain: Feeding Israel’s Soldiers During Wartime

Soldiers enjoying some respite and freshly prepared meals.

Just before COVID hit, Shimon Shain’s food truck business in the Golan Heights took a turn for the worse. He was forced to let go of all his staff in an effort to keep his business alive while working 16-hour days and fighting his way out of debt. Despite his financial hardships, Shain made a pledge that he would put aside tzedakah with the little money he had.

Two-and-a-half years later, his business is thriving, he has made giving tzedakah his motto, and his motivation for giving has fed thousands of soldiers stationed in northern Israel since the war broke out.

A native of Brooklyn, Shain studied cuisine at a culinary school in Jerusalem before marrying and returning to Brooklyn with his wife. After a few years in San Diego and Los Angeles, the couple made aliyah in 2016 and settled in Hispin in the southern Golan Heights. With minimum English skills, Shain took his first job as a cook in a local high school. Meanwhile, an entrepreneur at heart, he began exploring different opportunities in the food business in the Golan Heights.

At that time, the restaurant industry in a region rich with nature reserves and hiking groups was quite bare. Determined to change that reality, Shain ventured to open a restaurant but hit a roadblock when he was unable to find available rental space. So he veered from his original route and researched purchasing food trucks, an industry that was almost unheard of seven years ago in Israel. His research led him to Tel Aviv, where he was able to purchase an unused food truck that belonged to a coffee chain, and his business was launched.

Shortly before COVID hit, he was operating two food trucks in Hispin with dairy and meat menus. His newest venture, a kiosk outside the popular Nahal El Al hiking trail, served refreshments and cold drinks to the many tired and hungry hikers that frequented the nature reserve. But news of a contamination of bacteria in the stream forced its closure, and with it, Shain’s kiosk. That’s when business took a dive. He could barely put food on his table to provide for his wife and six children. He did not think his business would survive but he continued to put in long hours to keep it alive, working on his own.

Shain also decided that he would make a set contribution of tzedakah even though he was struggling financially. Shortly after, he had a series of encounters that would prove to revive his business, which Shain refers to as “so many miracles,” one after the other. Israel’s Kan 11 broadcasting station reached out to film a feature on his food trucks, which gave his business a tremendous boost in sales. He also secured a significant investment from a venture capitalist who saw potential in Shain’s business. “I learned through these struggles that it is very important that when you don’t have, that is the most important time to give. And when you give when you don’t have, God takes care of you,” Shain said.

So when he learned of the Oct. 7 massacres, Shain immediately thought about how he could contribute. His mind went to 9/11, when he was living in New York. He recalled the way restaurants opened their doors to rescue workers and provided them meals at no charge. The first call he made on Motzei Shabbat of Oct. 7 was to a member of his board of directors. Shain shared with him his plan to turn his two food trucks into delivery trucks for soldiers protecting the north of Israel. That week, he already had a team in the field delivering meals.

Every day, the trucks drive around to army bases in northern Israel providing coffee, sandwiches and hot meals to hundreds of soldiers, at no cost, amounting to tens of thousands of distributions over the past month. Soldiers fighting in the north can reach out to Shain directly to request a meal. Shain will vet the request with the army and once approved, he will send the food truck to the location to prepare a hot meal for the entire unit.

One soldier shared, “It’s such an amazing feeling to come back after a long day of training in the heat, in the wind, in the dirt, to come back at night to get a delicious, tasty and filling meal. It really means so much to us and makes us so much better.”

In addition to the meals he is preparing for soldiers protecting the northern borders, Shain operates two restaurants in Hispin, named Shimmy’s and TheSummit (or Hapisgah), a new high-end meat restaurant located in Bnei Yehuda just a few minutes from the Kinneret. Any soldier that walks into the restaurant receives a complimentary meal. He has another restaurant under construction in Mount Hermon. Shain recently brought onboard chef Todd Ahrens, a former restaurant owner in New Jersey, to oversee all his food services. He also works closely with the IDF, and has a permit to enter military bases across northern Israel to sell food during non-war times. He looks back in awe at where his business was two-and-a-half years ago and where he is now.

Shain’s motto is, “When you give, you get.” These days, he is giving a lot.

Contributions towards Shimmy’s meals for soldiers can be made through Chabad of the Golan or by visiting https://pe4ch.com/ref/qfbx8Juc2cen


Alisa Bodner is a staff writer at The Jewish Link.

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