The pandemic may have complicated travel plans to Israel, but those wanting a piece of the Jewish state brought to them can turn to Tova Taragin and the grassroots nonprofit, American Communities Helping Israel.
Taragin is the Baltimore-Washington coordinator for ACHI, which helps promote Israeli small businesses.
Taragin lives in Baltimore’s Greenspring neighborhood and is a member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah. She grew up in Queens, N.Y., where her father was a rabbi of a synagogue. Taragin attended Jewish day school and later graduated from Yeshiva University High School in 1965. She attended Stern College for women and spent 48 years as a teacher at schools like Ohr Chadash Academy, Ner Tamid Hebrew school and Bais Yaakov before retiring. She is proud to say that, at 73, she is as old as the state of Israel.
Taragin said that ACHI has been in existence since the Second Intifada, a low point in Israeli tourism.
“Our motto has been ‘Think Israel and Buy Israeli,’” Taragin said. “We want to keep Israel in the hearts and minds of Jews in the Diaspora, both young and old.”
ACHI has taken this goal with them in their visits to synagogues, schools and camps, Taragin said. She noted that the organization’s KLEE campaign, short for Klee L’Ezrat Yisroel, which translates to “dish to help Israel,” has seen great success.
“The idea [of KLEE] is to fill a dish or vessel with Israeli products and keep it on your Shabbat and holiday table, office or dorm rooms, filling it and refilling it as it empties,” Taragin said. “Beth Tfiloh and Ohr Chadash also had a KLEE campaign, where they made KLEES and children brought them home to constantly keep Israel an important part of their family’s traditions.”
With the pandemic, ACHI launched an online market at achi613.org, which now houses more than 150 Israeli merchants. Their wares include Judaica items, jewelry, art, cosmetics, clothing, spices, antiques and wine, as well as toys, books and puzzles for children. Some of the more well-known brands on the site include Baltinester, a Judaica store, and Ayala Bar, an established jewelry designer.
One option on the site, “Buy Israeli-deliver in Israel,” has proven popular with parents whose children are studying in Israel or serving in the Israel Defense Forces, as well as with customers looking to send gifts to family or friends in Israel, Taragin said.
“The idea is to get people in the US to shop virtually–to let them realize that Israel is ‘Just a click away,’” Taragin said in an email. “It is especially important now because tourism to Israel is so restricted.
“We try to help struggling vendors,” Taragin continued. “This is the highest form of Tzedakah, making sure people have jobs and can stand on their own two feet.”
Rochelle Zupnik, an early member of the organization, recruited Taragin to the organization after she retired from teaching, Taragin said. Her work has included writing ads, promoting fundraisers, updating the website, organizing Facebook groups, running parlour meetings and promoting the KLEE program.
If ACHI is able to raise the funds for it, the group hopes that, in the future, it can begin offering certain services through their site, Taragin said. In this way, people who are making aliyah, planning a trip or buying an apartment can have a single place to find the lawyers, tour guides or accountants they might need to make these things happen.
On the question of why it is important to buy Israeli and support Israel’s small businesses, Taragin had a clear answer.
“This shores up the Israeli economy and there is a ripple down effect to their suppliers, employees,” Taragin said. “Israeli crafts, art, and jewelry is also beautiful and will enhance any home.
“Having these displayed in your homes and offices will surely keep Israel in the hearts and minds of those who visit you and remind your families of the importance of Israel in our lives,” Taragin added.