The Mouse Is Mightier Than The Sword

By Yitzchok Adlerstein

Consider this a draft notice from the IDF. Your home computer has been called up in defense of the Jewish State.

Relax. Do not expect IDF representatives to commandeer your laptop for the front. Rather, you are being asked to help reverse the ravages of war upon the Israeli economy.

Tourism has come to a standstill. This is devastating not only for people running hotels, but for dozens of other industries that rely upon visitors to Israel for their livelihood. Between trips to Israel, what can we do from our posts in the Diaspora?

Plenty, if we turn to www.shopinisrael.com.

Jane Sher had quietly tried to do what she could by seeking out Israeli vendors on the Web. Guests at a San Diego Bat Mitzvah admired her choice of gift, which came from one of these sites. Sharing her thoughts with others at the table, she quickly attracted a crowd around her, wondering whether shopping in Israel was practicable from the US. Jane argued that lots of stores and artisans have web sites, and guessed that bringing them together under one electronic roof would make such shopping convenient and attractive. This conjecture now costs her the six to eight hours per day she devotes to her site, for which she receives no compensation.

To get things rolling, she turned to the most likely and expert know-how available–a 14-year-old kid in the neighborhood, who took care of the web design. Jane laboriously contacted Israeli sites, and offered free advertising under the shopinisrael banner. Some didn’t reply, thinking a something-for-nothing offer was too good to be true. Many did, however, and soon she had to turn away eager merchants from Flatbush trying to pass themselves off as Israeli outfits, as well as Palestinian concerns from Ramallah who tried joining for their own nefarious purposes. In time, the effort became successful and attractive enough that the prestigious Washington law firm of Arnold and Porter agreed to provide pro bono assistance in vetting of new sites, helping to weed out the inappropriate ones.

By now, several hundred vendors come together in an electronic mall, conveniently divided up into different categories, for your shopping convenience.

Prior to this project, Jane was a seasoned volunteer and macher, with contacts in the hierarchies of major American Jewish organizations. As a Wexner graduate, she got word out to a mailing list of past Fellows. UJC put her on its web site; the ADL, Hillel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency (which gave her an award) and others provided publicity to their constituencies.

Perhaps our readership will start something going in the Orthodox community.

The Way to a Soldier’s Heart…

“Two Aussies and a Limey” sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Our next site brings smiles to thousands, without even trying to be funny.

The three Anglo olim with strange accents were looking, like Jane Sher, for a way to help. They observed that Israel’s food industry has been hard hit, depending as it does upon tourists with big appetites. They also understood the loneliness and isolation of soldiers performing difficult tasks, surrounded by hatred and the condemnation of a hypocritical world. The web site they developed simultaneously addresses both problems.

Click on to www.pizzaidf.org, and you will find a number of options to send a message of support to front-line soldiers that will be quickly gobbled up and understood.

You can send five orders of ice cream ($15), or pizza and Pepsi for a patrol ($17) or a platoon of 30 ($90). The food is all mehadrin, so no soldiers will question the kashrut. Pizza providers and delivery people who have been hard hit by the intifada are finding a new source of income in this enterprise. Security details have been worked out with the IDF, so ignore what you may have read months ago about cancellation of the service because some feared that terrorists would show up with pizza-shaped Trojan horses.

The soldiers receive two messages, figuratively and actually. The unexpected treat breaks the boredom of military rations. Along with it comes a message that the sponsor keys into the web site, and that is printed out at the other end and delivered along with the food. The folks who run the site say that it is difficult to tell which the soldiers appreciate the most. They certainly welcome the food, but they are moved that people are not only thinking of them, but care enough to reach inside their wallets to provide them with a bit of recognition and appreciation.

The messages sometimes go beyond that. Most of the pizza patrons are ordinary American Jews. But pick though the letters (the site presents a sampler) and you will find many–some of them quite moving–from people who provide identification to make a point. There is a nice representation of school groups, Orthodox and not. Many come from non-Jews, ranging from self-described traditional Roman Catholics, to born-again Christians from Scotland. Some Chareidim point out that despite what the soldiers may have thought, they fully support the IDF as well. There are messages in French and German.

Unlike Jane Sher, the operators of this site do take something off the top for the considerable time they put into the site. Seems fair. So the next time you leave the morning paper feeling particularly galled by the way we are being treated, don’t go to pizzaidf right away. First, say some extra Tehillim and learn an extra mishnah. After that, savor the good feeling of making an Israeli soldier a bit more proud and a bit more effective.

Haman Redux

Enemies who try to destroy us are unfortunately all too common in the pages of our history. We do have one account of a secret weapon that moved Hashem’s compassion to the point of reversing the fortunes of our oppressor–children in the Torah classroom.

Yalkut Shimoni (Esther 1057) reports that Haman, power-intoxicated but brimming with hate, found Mordechai teaching Torah to young schoolchildren. He immediately swore that these children would be his first victims. Their mothers tried solacing them with food and drink, but the children vowed that they would die fasting.

They apparently kept up their Torah study. But late at night, their cries pierced the Heavens, and God reversed the decree. The children, and the special holiness of their learning, had saved the community.

The Web has a new tool for helping your children learn better. Some 16 years ago, a young, creative teacher brimming with enthusiasm attended a presentation in St. Louis by Shana Kramer, who organized the Creative Learning Pavillion (CLP). Under the aegis of Torah Umesorah, the CLP was, at the time, a sort of road show of proven educational ideas and materials that was taken to day schools around the country. This started a partnership that now has Donna Zeffren devoting herself full time to the gathering and distribution of effective educational tools.

Recently, technology caught up with them, and much material is available at www.e-chinuch.org.

Make sure your children’s teachers know about this site. It could change the course of American chinuch. The site is visually attractive and wonderfully structured, but its real promise is in promoting networking. Good teachers can become better, by borrowing materials (including lessons, graphics, technological tools and creative programs) from better teachers. They can reach out for advice, far beyond the classroom walls. They can build on the experience of others, and seek counsel from big-name educators, either through a highly organized system of specialty message boards, or through direct communication. A surprising thousand mechanchim and mechanchot compromised the little free time they have by providing contact information to their colleagues. (No, parents will not have access to this feature, although they can view and download a dizzying assortment of materials. These will be particularly helpful to parents looking for enrichment material, or for use during vacation breaks or when children are homebound.) Much more material than can be imagined is waiting in the wings. Thirteen years worth of archived treasures simply await the funding to have them digitally transferred to the site.

Shakespeare maintained that all the world’s a stage. E-chinuch will make all the Jewish world a classroom. Our children will be the primary beneficiaries. With the help of God, the merit of their learning should restore peace to our precious Land.

Rabbi Adlerstein davens for peace while directing an educational outreach program for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and serving on the editorial board of Jewish Action.

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This article was featured in the Fall 2002 issue of Jewish Action.
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