First person account about Israeli businesses from our ACHI representative on the streets of Jerusalem
Finally we are back in Jerusalem, in our little apartment in Rechavia. My husband and I managed to slip into Israel between lockdowns and have spent most of the past two months enjoying the rain and the unusual snowfall while stuck in said apartment. Much to my delight, we have had some beautiful weather this week and I finally started my favorite pastime—window shopping (and shopping) on the streets I know so well. However, not only were some of my beloved stores closed, but many more businesses were dark and shuttered.
The toll that the corona pandemic has had on the global economy has yet to be determined—but I am witnessing firsthand the effects on the owners of small- and middle-sized establishments in Jerusalem, and extrapolating the situation to Israel’s economy as a whole. In an article in Israel Hayom (Jan. 18, 2022), Sonia Gorodeisky reported that according to LAHAV, the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses, 70,000 small- and mid-size businesses failed in 2021, and the outlook for new businesses remaining open isn’t the brightest. Hence the title of this essay.
I have to admit that I am a spy for an organization named ACHI (American Communities Helping Israel). We are a team of ten members, the majority of whom are volunteers. ACHI was founded about eighteen years ago by Suzanne Weilgus, who was one of several women instrumental in setting up Israeli vendor fairs in New York and New Jersey. The Second Intifada had disrupted Israel’s economy enough to cause damage to Israeli merchants. Vendors set up their wares at the Israeli fairs, and the results were immediate and positive. Sales were spectacular and the merchants realized that we, American Jews, cared and were concerned enough to take steps to help. ACHI was created with the goal of keeping Israel in the hearts and minds of Jewish Diaspora and THINK ISRAEL-BUY ISRAELI became our call to action.
In the early years of ACHI, programs to educate the children, their parents and their communities were implemented by the trio of Weilgus, the founder of ACHI, and two close friends, Gloria Gordon and Rochelle Zupnik. Tova Taragin, Marcia Wagner and Lynda Zentman (that’s me) rounded out the volunteer not-for-profit organization. We have recently added three associates, Meira Book, Devorah Pahmer and Jessica Bienenfeld, whose individual talents and combined energy has brought ACHI into the world of social media. Our newest volunteer, Elianna Mintz Perez, through her engaging personality, has been able to push ACHI further into the limelight, with her myriad contacts and friends and her sincere enthusiasm for ACHI’s mission. (see ILTV interview on Youtube called What’s Your KLEE at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfElcCXzvoM).
What’s Your KLEE should have been called “What is a KLEE?” I’ll explain:
The KLEE is a dish or tray dedicated to be filled and refilled with the myriad products available in stores and now online at www.achi613.org. (more about that later) The KLEE can be any dish, tray or bowl in your home. It can be bought or it can be handcrafted. The KLEE is a tangible reminder of your connection to Israel, as long as it is constantly displayed and filled with
“tozteret ha’aretz”(products of Israel), be it food, cosmetics or a dish dedicated to your jewelry made in Israel. If you buy an artisan-crafted ceramic bowl you have a KLEE and art in one. The ACHI team has crafted KLEES in schools and summer camps. It’s a wonderful idea for women’s groups of all ages.
Visit www.achi613.com for the KLEE instructions.
The crux of the matter is Israel’s economy—not Israel the “startup nation,” not the records set for export, not even the ubiquitous construction sites with the national bird of Israel—the crane towering over the landscape. I am referring to what has happened to the average man or woman on the street. The small- and mid-size businesses need consumer traffic, but the stats reflect the absence of tourism and the people who have been hurt most by the pandemic are the owners of the shuttered storefronts.
The ACHI Market on www.achi613.org designed for us by Stephen Plotsker, head of BPS Digital Media, hosts such small- and mid-sized businesses. The ACHI team realized that an effort to help merchants to keep afloat was a goal that could be achieved by providing a platform for any business with its own website that had the ability to ship to the US and within Israel. Merchants on the ACHI Market are promoted in social media, and through articles and ads run in Jewish newspapers and magazines. Over 150 vendors in categories from fashion, jewelry, Judaica, art, crafts and gifts are at your fingertips. Presents for any occasion can be swiftly bought and shipped outside of Israel, and an array of gift baskets, balloons, baked goods and presents can be sent to loved ones here in Israel. The month of Adar comes as a perfect opportunity to check out our merchants for mishloach manot baskets. The ACHI Purim e-card is also available for you to send to your many friends around the world. Just click on this QR code to order Purim e-cards.
ACHI continues to care about the people of Israel. The shuttered storefronts must open again, and the economy must be helped. ACHI and the ACHI Market look forward to a visit from you. As always, THINK ISRAEL-BUY ISRAELI.
By Dr. Lynda M. Zentman