By Michelle Zoldan
Can a spacious warehouse in Suffern’s Spook Rock Industrial Park be “mitzvadik?”
It can—and it is—when that warehouse is the new home of Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County!
A festive chanukas habayis was held at the Tomche Shabbos warehouse on the evening of June 15, complete with music, speeches, an outdoor party tent and, of course, food.
The new warehouse will be a “meeting place of chesed,” said Debra Rosenstock, wife of Tomche Shabbos of Monsey founder Alan Rosenstock. A loyal and enthusiastic volunteer, Debra pitches in every Wednesday night with all the other women volunteers to set up the boxes, separate different cans and products and organize. The food packages are then assembled by the men on Thursday and delivered discreetly every Thursday night. The entire Thursday night process starts at around 7:30 p.m. and ends by 10:30. The Shabbos food boxes typically include chicken, fish, challah, grape juice, fruits and vegetable, eggs and canned goods. Last year, the chesed organization distributed 34,461 challahs, 65,202 bottles of grape juice and approximately 199,000 pounds of chicken.
Founded in 1973, Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County has been providing Shabbos and Yom Tov food packages to the aniyim of our community on a regular basis. Initially, there were only seven families that required assistance. Late at night that first week, the food was driven to the designated locations, whereupon the boxes were circumspectly left at their front doors. That tradition of “under the radar” food delivery has been observed ever since, although the number of families served has dramatically grown.
Given the current financial situation, there are now more families in our community in financial distress than ever before. Numerous people have lost their jobs, businesses have unfortunately failed and the breadwinners of some families have been struck with illness or disability.
To fill the growing need, in comes Tomche Shabbos of Rockland County. The new warehouse currently packages 500 boxes, each representing a family in need, and Tomche Shabbos is one of the primary food sources for these families in Monsey and New Square—and not just for Shabbos. The food is provided with the utmost anonymity— no names or addresses appear on the box, just a number.
In addition to effectively serving a critical community need, another regular Tomche Shabbos member points out an additional beautiful mitzvah that the Tomche Shabbos team epitomizes, proven from a quick glance around the room: Jewish unity. “Our weekly food packaging and delivery efforts bring so many different types of Jews together—Chasidim, modern people, young and old —all united in the same thing: helping klal yisroel.”
Since boys under 16 need to be accompanied by an adult, helping Tomche Shabbos is something many families do together—like Bret Ruskin’s family.
Bret has been a Tomche Shabbos volunteer for 16 years. He puts on his waterproof gloves, then covers those gloves with thick freezer-safe gloves, so he can handle the frozen chickens without burning his hands.
Bret brings his three sons to the weekly meeting of the Tomche Shabbos packers. He feels Tomche Shabbos is a place he gets “to give back to other people without looking into who they are. We don’t ask, we don’t know—we get to do the mitzvah properly.”
Two of his sons are here this evening packing. One is 6’1” and the other is younger and much shorter. The younger boy checks the code on each box, an indicator of what needs to be put in, and pulls out the right item from the cart below. He then hands it to his older brother, working next to him, who places the items into the highest boxes above. This is teamwork—not to mention brotherly cooperation—of the highest order.
The warehouse has a massive refrigerator and a freezer double the size. Children follow behind Debra, touring the warehouse. “You could be ice cream in there!” she jokes, opening the freezer. Hundreds of cardboard boxes line the shelves and dozens of men are bustling about, placing different items into the boxes in rows. They are certainly a diverse crew of volunteers, all working side by side, as they prepare food packages for the needy families. Though they are not aware of the recipients’ identities, they go about their work with the same enthusiasm as if that emergency food package was destined for a brother or sister.
Rabbi Ari Senter, rabbi of Kehilas Yeshorim of Wesley Hills, gave a dedication dvar Torah. He said, “If we gave the highest level of tzedakah, there would be no need for such an organization, because the highest level of tzedakah is to give a person the ability to support themselves, so they do not need tzedakah.” He continued, “If only 10% of the people I spoke with about finding others jobs actually took it seriously, Tomche Shabbos would not be expanding, but would be closing down.”
Not only does Tomche Shabbo distribute food weekly, but also, once every four to six weeks, the Chodesh Food Outlet provides food by the case, at cost price. The organization also distributes clothing and shoes to the needy, provides financial assistance and budget counseling with a CPA and offers adult education classes that teach marketable computer skills. But what Rabbi Senter might arguably find most important of all is Tomche Shabbos’s free job training and job placement service, which has found work for more than 265 job-seekers. In this area, as well, Tomche Shabbos, is making a difference.
There was a lot of hard work needed to arrange for the new warehouse. Alan Rosenstock’s 14-year-old daughter, Ahuva, thinks her dad is “definitely a great role model, for myself and for others.” He was a jewelry salesman about 27 years ago when he decided to start Tomche Shabbos by consolidating all the people who were doing this mitzvah separately. Shortly after, he quit his “day job” to become the organization’s full-time director.
“There wasn’t enough room in the other warehouse,” a Tomche Shabbos volunteer tells monsey.com. “By buying the food in bulk, we are able to get better deals, save money and thus have more food to feed more people.” With the new warehouse, Tomche Shabbos now has ample space for storage,as well as more room to better organize the food-packing efforts.
When it comes to recruiting volunteers, Mr. Rosenstock also takes a hands-on approach. He often visits local schools to speak to kids and encourages them to help out in their own community. Describing his efforts at recruitment, he says “I reach out to kids as often as possible. I’ll go to any school that will have me. I’d even go to Zimbabwe if they’d ask me to speak to the children. Wherever I go, I encourage kids to help out in their own communities. I also tell them they can call me—and they do. I visit schools because I know I’m touching the future. This is a way to continue our mesorah of chesed and mesiras nefesh.”
When asked if there is anything he would like to say to the community, he responds resoundingly with one striking message, “We need more volunteers! We are short on volunteers on a weekly basis.” And, volunteering does not have to be a weekly commitment. Some people show up weekly, while others periodically. With 500 boxes and 60 routes, even once in a lifetime is helpful.
To volunteer for Tomche Shabbos or recommend a person or family in need of its help, please call (845) 356-0202. If possible, please have the name, address, phone number, and number of boys and/or girls in the family (for occasional gifts and clothing). The name of the applicant’s Rav or a reputable community representative aware of the situation would also be helpful. You may also contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.