The hills of Judea
The hills of Judea Israel news photo

A second-hand clothing charity fund based in Efrat that helps Jews across Israel has also helped its Arab neighbors for more than 20 years, according to Ora Yannai, who co-founded the project with Rebbetzin Vicky Riskin, whose husband is the city's Chief Rabbi. The gemach, as it is called in Hebrew, has blossomed from its humble beginnings as a small distribution of second-hand clothing to Ethiopian immigrants in Kiryat Arba some 25 years ago, into a massive country-wide operation.

“Then the Russians came, and they said, 'Why only the Ethiopians?' and they were right, so we open

"Then the Russians came, and they said, 'Why only the Ethiopians?'"

ed it up to everyone. That gemach is still there in Kiryat Arba,” explained Yannai in an exclusive interview with Israel National News. She added that eventually, another was opened in Efrat as well. The refugees from Darfur were also beneficiaries two years ago, when trucks regularly made deliveries to the Ketziot prison where they were living at the time.

Over the years, the Efrat center became a regular second hand “department store”, featuring clothing, linens, electrical goods and furniture. It is quite popular, with shoppers flocking to avail themselves of its low priced wares twice a week near the city's matnas, or cultural center. The funds earned in Efrat are used to defray the expenses of buying bags to pack the clothes that are delivered free to other areas, and to pay for trucks that make the deliveries.

“We distribute really good second hand and donated new clothes to all kinds of places,”  she added. “Last year we sent out 2,300 huge industrial bags alone. We send to Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi, to an absorption center in Rehovot, a few senior centers in Jerusalem, to an organization for people with disabilities, also to Hevron – and to our Bedouin neighbors in the Judean Desert. I don't throw anything away.”

'They help us, let's help them'

The Bedouins, she explained, use the clothing, but also make a living from it by selling it among themselves as well. “That relationship began with the late Dubak Weinstock, a resident of Alon Shevut who worked with them as part of the Ein Gedi Rescue Team,” Yannai explained. “He knew the Bedouins who lived out there, and said 'Look, they help us, so let's see how we can help them in return.' In the middle of the night I sometimes used to go out with the truck to bring them the clothes,” she recalled.

A stronger relationship, dating back even longer, however, is the bond the gemach shares with the nearby Arab village of Wadi Nis, once a close neighbor but currently located in Area A of the Palestinian Authority -- now completely under the control of the PA government.  The residents there used to work in Efrat.

Yannai is adamant that this long-time friendship must be preserved.

“I still go there, and every kid knows me,” she said. “I give the clothes to one hamullah (clan); they're delivered by the Efrat security patrol. That's important also, so they know that we are friends, and that the security people are friends as well. I am not the only one who feels this way,” she added. “There are others who also believe in this. Rabbi Riskin (the Chief Rabbi of Efrat) and his wife Vicky are among them.”

There are at least 10 regular volunteers who help Riskin and Yannai with the day-to-day tasks of organizing and sorting through the thousands of items that are donated to the gemach every day. “People grow up, and families are left with tons of things,” Yannai explained.

She buys the bags from a wholesaler, special ones in different colors, depending on what they are being used for – green for children's clothes sent to the absorption centers, grey for senior citizens' clothes.

“Young couples get married and bring us beautiful things that they don't want or need, or that they already have.  We live in a society where some people have so much and others have so little. It's good to help.”

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