Creating a Community

“Suddenly, it felt like our apartment building became a community, neighbors confide and rely on one another. The bonds grew strong like ones you would find in a small town or yeshuv
Simhi Family, Holon

“Usually organizations ask for help from society. Instead, “Karov Lalev” only gives. Since we’ve joined as volunteers, we have been exchanging gifts every single holiday. Our relationship with our neighbors have moved way beyond only shyly saying “hello”
Paz Family, Holon

“It’s nice to walk down the street and actually know the people who pass you by. It gives a warm feeling to say “Good Morning” and to always be welcomed among my neighbors. Suddenly they’re not strangers anymore”
Lapid Family, Tel Aviv

“The atmosphere in our apartment building is now much warmer. We’re not so tense around each other anymore”
Olshinsky Family, Ramat HaSharon

“It feels good that you know people who live next to you care about you. You know you have someone to talk to”
Hason Family, Ramat HaSharon

Surprise at the Hassidic Home

Wednesday night, the fourth night of Chanukah.
A chilly breeze sweeps through one of the coldest neighborhoods in the State of Israel, Ramat Aviv Gimel.
From the windows of the buildings, it is difficult to see Chanukiyot. There are many advertisements here, but not many advertising the Hanukkah miracle. The only thing that resembles the fourth night is an older man that looks like the Shamash, followed by four skipping puppies on their evening walk. Stereotypical.

We walk slowly. Two yeshiva students, button-down shirts, swinging tzitzit, knitted kippot, glasses with thick lenses, protruding sideburns. Stereotypical.
After the distressing Oppenheimer campaign, we decide (with butterflies in our stomachs) to go out for a Karov LaLev activity. After failing to get past the intercom system of the first apartment building, we continue to the second building and – it’s a miracle! The door of the lobby is open! We decide to follow the Beit Shammai approach, starting from the top floor and descending. Which is how we find ourselves standing in front of Apartment 45, straightening our hair and sweaters, trying to get our heartbeat to a normal pace and… knocking on the door.

The moment of truth. A pleasant, older woman opens the door. This is the part when we whip out the sentence we practiced in front of the mirror: “Happy Chanukah! *Big Smile* We came to light candles together!”
“Now?!” the woman reprimands us, sizing up the two bearded fellows in front of her. We glance at our cell phone screens… it’s not even eight o’clock at night. These Tel Avivians are really out of touch with reality. She continues, in a part-critical, part-proud tone: “Our family is Hassidic! We lit candles a few hours ago!” Wow, we got a Hassidic family on our first knock in Ramat Aviv?!

Our religious curiosity gets the better of us. “What Hassidic sect are you from?” we ask excitedly. She replies, “I’m originally from the Horowitz family, a descendant of the Shlah. Have you heard of him?” Have we heard of the holy Shlah?! Before we have time to get offended by the question, she begins lecturing on the history of the family of Rabbi Yishaya Halevi Horowitz and brags that she learns Tanach with the commentaries and makes sure that her grandchildren celebrate their birthdays only on their Hebrew birth dates. (Don’t look at me like that, my grandfather was the Shlah!) In all of this Hassidic enthusiasm, we momentarily wonder if we’re in Ramat Aviv or Ramat Elchanan.

We stand in awe at the front door. Beyond the door that is by now open widely, our eyes catch an extraordinary bookcase covering the entire wall, from floor to ceiling. Our religious curiosity again overcomes us. “Grandma, what a big bookcase you have!” we ask, feeling our kippot getting red like Little Red Riding Hood.
“Oh, yes…” a broad smile spreads across our Rebbetzin’s face, “That’s my husband’s library!”
“Your husband?”
“Yes, he’s a renowned author; he’s written 39 books translated into 31 languages. He also won an Israel Prize. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. His name is Amos Oz.”

The Twinkle in Her Eyes

I would like to thank you for giving me the privilege to make someone happy. I live in Bat Yam and I have a neighbor who is a new immigrant from France. After I got your Tu B’Shvat kit, I prepared a platter of dried fruit, took the kit and knocked on her door. When I came in, I wished her a happy holiday; she was sitting in the living room watching television. She didn’t understand what I wanted from her. I asked her if she knew that it was a holiday today, and she shook her head. I told her that today was Tu B’Shvat… I’ll never forget that twinkle in her eyes and her joy. I would have never thought that such a small gesture could have such a big impact. When I came out of the elevator this morning, she saw me and asked me to wait a moment. She went into her house and came back with a bag containing a box of candies and a box of cookies for the children. She said, “This is for your children. You warmed my heart.” What a great way to start off the week! Thank you for the privilege.

Rabinowitz Family, Haifa

Because of the Karov LaLev Calendar, We’re Getting a New Apartment!

I would like to share with you something that happened to me last night in our apartment building…
Some background:
I was born in Raanana and I live there today with my wife.
Recently, in conjunction with the Bayit Yehudi party in Raanana, I have been giving your gorgeous kits to my neighbors in the building.
Our building has been approved for urban renovation but there is one elderly tenant who is opposed to the project. As a result, the entire project has been stuck for the past few years.

Last night, I decided that I have nothing to lose and I took a kit and visited that elderly neighbor. I sat with him, gave him the gift (which included a Jewish calendar) and we had a pleasant conversation about the approaching holiday of Rosh Hashana, where he would be spending the holiday…
At the end of our discussion, I mentioned to him what we all would benefit if the renovation project was implemented. We had a heart to heart discussion; I think that until now, everyone just shouted and threatened him, causing him to close up… But last night, he promised me that he would agree to the project! So I’d like to thank you!

The Levys, Ashdod

Karov LaLev in the Diaspora

The week of Chanukah was extremely busy for us. We came home late every night and knocking on our neighbors’ doors with our Karov LaLev kits was out of the question.

On Saturday night, we packed our bags for our flight to Budapest the next morning. I looked mournfully at the deserted kit and in a spur of the moment decision, shoved it into my suitcase. Maybe I would find someone to share it with on the trip. The trip I attended was for a large group of Mifal HaPayis employees (300 people). Before we got off the bus to enter the hotel in Budapest, our guide announced the time that we would be meeting in the lobby to go to dinner. Making a spontaneous decision, I announced to the other passengers on the bus that anyone who wanted to participate in lighting Chanukah candles could come down to the lobby fifteen minutes earlier. One of the trip organizers heard the idea and suggested that I wait with the candle lighting until dinner, when all of the participants would be present.

The result was an amazing candle lighting experience. Three hundred Israelis participated in the mitzva of lighting Hanukkah candles, some of whom said that they hadn’t even remembered that it was Chanukah.
The loud singing of “Hanerot Halalu” that emanated from the restaurant reminded me that the Jewish nation, in any place and at any distance, can connect to light with all of their hearts the moment that anyone lights it. Thanks to the wonderful kit from Karov LaLev, I had the privilege of getting to know amazing Jewish people who just need that candle to be lit for them…

Although this wasn’t Karov LaLev’s original intention, this one kit stimulated hundreds of new connections with “neighbors” far away.

Drenger Family, Holon

Candles that Put Out Fire

I would like to share our personal Chanukah miracle that happened right near us. I believe that it happened in the merit of the Chanukah candles and the holiday joy.

On the first night of Chanukah, we went out to visit our neighbors with our Karov LaLev kits in hand. The neighbors were very happy to light Chanukah candles with us and told us that we had moved them with our warm attitudes and by personally introducing ourselves.

A few days later, on the fifth night, they called us to ask for help. Their house, made entirely of wood, was burning due to a short circuit. My husband immediately ran to help them and thank God, was able to save them as I quickly called the fire department.
Unfortunately, their entire house was burned down, but thankfully we witnessed a Chanukah miracle – that the entire family was saved from the fire.

We are sure that the candle lighting, the unity and the love that we felt on the first night of Chanukah are what truly saved the family from the flames, because if not for that visit, they wouldn’t have thought to call us in their time of distress.

Doron Family, Kiryat Malachi

Karov LaLev Opened His Heart...

A young man called me after receiving the Karov LaLev Chanukah kit from his neighbor and thanked me emotionally.
“What moved you so much?” I asked him.
He told me the following story, “Five years ago, my father died suddenly. Without any prior warning, he simply disappeared from our lives. As an act of protest against God, we decided to stop to keep the traditions that we used to keep. For five years we haven’t kept Shabbat at all. For five years we have had no traditions – we even drive to the beach on Yom Kippur! For five years we have been angry at God, coming to terms with the fact that we are done with Judaism. I saw your Facebook post about the Chanukah kits, which obviously didn’t interest me. But my neighbor was interested, and without my knowing, ordered a kit for me too. In his excitement, he also bought a few other Chanukah items – dreidels, jelly doughnuts and more. On one of the nights of Chanukah, he and his family came to our house with the kit. I couldn’t decide if I should take it, but when I saw how excited his wife and daughters were about it, I agreed. They said that it was the first time they saw a Chanukiya all lit up.”

We kept talking and he told me that the Karov LaLev kits opened his heart, and not just on Chanukah. They made him feel more accepting about his Jewish identity. He didn’t stop thanking me and I would like to pass his words of thanks on to you!

Portowitz Family, Hadera

An Awkward Knock On the Door

It’s because of Yariv Oppenheimer that I recently keep arguing with my friends.

Before I get ahead of myself, perhaps I need to explain a few things: several of my closest friends are volunteers and extreme advocates of Karov LaLev, an organization that aims to tighten bonds and motivate religious families to visit their secular neighbors during the holidays.

It’s been a few years now that these friends keep telling me how Karov LaLev’s initiative is life-changing, how it’s probably a solution to all issues of Israeli society. One of my friends, Hillel (last name and residence withheld. The guy chases social bonds yet refrains from publicity), claims that if only the religious Zionism will change just a bit, it will have the power to create a true spiritual revolution, that no other sector is capable of.
For example, think of how much effort is put when a Habbad missionary moves to Eilat or Kiryat Shmona. Then, after he finally arrives, he starts to initiate various activities and social bonds until he slowly manages to settle in. The religious Zionism, says Hillel, is there to begin with. In the army, the workplaces, big and small cities alike. “We’re already out there”, he tells me repeatedly. “If only each and every one of us will adapt a change making mindset, be confident that we have the power to actually create a difference and only view differently the people he already works with – the sky’s the limit. We should be knocking on those doors not only when we need something.”…

Every holiday eve, after visiting their neighbors, Hillel and his wife return to their home feeling ecstatic. Instead of the usual “Happy Holidays”, they just tell me that next time I must join then.

I feel as if Karov LaLev’s new campaign and its message are portraying the exact opposite of what Hillel keeps telling me about them.
No, it’s not only the fact that they’ve casted Yariv Oppenheimer, but mostly because the campaign is aggressive and somewhat violent. I’m sorry, but if a commercial has to have an explicit message before airing it, then it can’t possibly motivate people for a positive, Jewish action. It’s not a thoughtful campaign, is simply a gimmick, and it stinks from provocation and the desire for people to talk about it. And I hate commercials that were made just for us to talk about. I can vividly imagine the creative team brainstorming new campaign ideas, saying: “Then we’ll bring Yariv Oppenheimer, just to irritate people. Also, there should be shrimps and tattoos. You guys, this is going viral!” (Ugh, so why am I even talking about this?)

So I told Hillel and the rest of my volunteering friends that their so-called wonderful organization screwed up, big time. “You’re wrong”, said Hillel, “Finally someone notices us. Up until now, no one even knew where I volunteer when I mentioned ‘Karov LaLev’. Now, everybody says ‘Oh, yeah, Oppenheimer’. I don’t even care if people are appalled by the campaign, as long as the matter at hand receives public awareness and exposure. Everybody notices people knocking on the front door of others who disagree with their opinions, kindling Hanukkah lights together. So… Will you finally join us this year?”

So I did. Not because, but despite the campaign. Sunday, 7 PM, the last Hanukkah light kindling, I found myself in a quiet, prestigious neighborhood in central Israel with two of my kids, a few Karov LaLev’s Hanukkah holiday kits and obviously, Hillel, who lives in that area.
The only thing I felt, all throughout the event, was pure awkwardness. Why should I go knocking on strangers’ doors? Why am I going through all this trouble? What will happen if they think less of me? Hillel, though, did not share any of these emotions. “Just think of a hypothetical situation of where someone lost their coat. Wouldn’t you visit them with pride? In these houses”, He said, pointing to the big private houses that were surrounding us, “they did lose something. You’re now going to return to them what belongs to them.”
Before I could wrap my head around Hillel’s harsh metaphor, he was already ringing their doorbell and proudly announced: “Happy Hanukkah! It’s your neighbors!”. While we waited for them to answer, he gave me his first tip: “I always introduce myself firstly as their neighbor. It’s the truth, and nobody ignores neighbors. You’re not a salesman or a bum, you’re a neighbor. Doors open to neighbors.”

We walked into the front yard. Until the front door opened, Hillel’s kids stood up front, and he gave me his second tip: “I always ask the kids to stand up front. Who doesn’t like kids?”. The next 30 minutes were spent in the company of a sweet literature teacher and her engineer husband. The gap between what I felt before entering their house, fear and detachment, to what I felt when I left their home, a sense of magic and warmth – was absolutely tremendous. When we said our goodbyes, Hillel asked for their phone number, so we could have a Shabbat dinner together in his house.

Oh, what about the light kindling, you ask? We were a little disappointed to find out they already completed the Hanukkah tradition. Even though, it seemed as if both us and they haven’t had such an experience in a while. We talked about everything; from Hanukkah, education, sufganiot (traditional Hanukkah pastry) to dieting.

When we left, we noticed an 11-year-old boy riding what you would call a high-tech Segway. He then fell, right in front of us. We walked towards him to help him get up, and he got all curious. “Happy Hanukkah, who are you?”, he asked while riding his Segway with a slight limp towards his house. We explained to him about Karov LaLev and why we came to the neighborhood. He got excited and invited us to light the Hanukkah candles together, but when we arrived to his house (Or should I say mansion), we discovered his parents weren’t home. Hillel immediately started to walk away, “I don’t want his parents to come back home and feel as if we invaded their privacy and tried to coerce their child into something, even if that something is only a Hanukkia”, he whispered. Well, the guy’s right. So we chatted a bit with the boy, made sure his knee was okay and left him with a holiday kit. He promised excitedly to light the candles with his parents as soon as they return.

At that point I had already felt we’ve done more than we should. I wanted to go back home, but Hillel was persistent and the kids went completely overboard. “Remember, here live the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!”, he announced before we knocked on the next front door on the list. Same as before, a lovely family who already finished the Hanukkah ceremony, yet enjoyed our company very much. Surprisingly, they were simply happy that finally someone around their neighborhood knocked on their door. “Well, perhaps you know who else lives on this street? We’ve been living here for over 20 years now, but they all keep to themselves around here, and we don’t really know who our neighbors are”, they said. As we said our goodbyes, Hillel, once more, made sure we’ll have a joint Shabbat dinner with them.

It was in the next house that my expectations were finally met. The gentlemen who opened the door nearly literally kicked us out of his property. I’m still not really sure why. It lasted two whole seconds, and it was quite offensive. I saw of this a sign from above that were should quit what we were doing, but Hillel and the two newly recruited, very enthusiastic, volunteers (my children, of course), were already waiting outside another house, where we’ve been told that “you should come back in 15 minutes since Dad isn’t back yet”.

The next family on the block was in the midst of a family Hanukkah celebration. The father, a young and very successful businessman (how do I know that? Well, if you would have seen his house you wouldn’t ask this pointless question) and his wife, a large-firm lawyer who got tired of working there and started working as a first-grade teacher (!). I felt totally out of place, even though Hillel was having lively conversation that ended, yet again, with warm hugs and exchanging contact information. You wouldn’t think that there are enough weekends to actually host all these different families, right? One of the guests, by the way, asked Hillel where can he join Torah lessons.

When we attempted to go back to the previous family, that invited us to come back later, we noticed it was bad timing yet again, as they were getting their children ready for bed. “Come back tomorrow”, they suggested, and I imagined Hillel showing up on the next day with a unique Hanukkia that had an additional, 9th candle.

“Mission accomplished”, Hillel declared as we said our goodbyes. He explained that excluding the house that clearly didn’t want us there, we were happily, curiously, welcomed into the neighbors’ homes. People crave human connections. We’ve heard so many stories throughout our adventures; grandparents that were once rabbis, for example, and many other anecdotes that were related to Jewish tradition. Not only that, but I realized that actually nobody forgot about Hanukkah’s light kindling tradition. If this is the situation in this type of neighborhood, then it’s only fair to assume that this is the ways of Israel, all over. Besides, we initiated so many new bonds tonight, some of them will perhaps evolve to something more.

I returned to my car, but the thoughts of what had happened didn’t give me rest. It was genuinely touching, but I’m not I fit into all this. Every single person has this mission in this life, and apparently knocking on door of strangers is not the one for me. I guess I was meant to write in the media about the people who were meant for that.

In any case, on my way back home, when I walked into a convenience store in the neighborhoods’ gas station, I realized my entire perspective had changed. I looked at the clerk and had to stop myself from initiating a conversation; about Hanukkah, about light kindling (he, on the other hand, only wanted to make sure my car’s oil and water were filled up). I guess that if you go on such a journey, even if it’s a one-time thing for an hour and a half, it becomes part of you. You start to gain awareness of others around you and their wellbeing.

It’s been a few days now, yet I can’t seem to let all this go. It seems like my children, too, had quite a positive experience, since they would stop reminiscing. Hillel, by the way, already made a few phone calls in order to make sure he’ll have enough holiday kits for Tu B’Shvat.

Abutbol Family, Kiryat Shmona