Taking Pride in Los Angeles Gemachim


Ruth Judah.

1. Gemach (Hebrew: גמ”ח‎, plural, גמחים, gemachim, an abbreviation for גמילות חסדים, gemilut chasadim, “acts of kindness”.) A Jewish free-loan fund…

close up of young man giving bouquet of flowers.

L.A’s gemachim offer items for a broad variety of causes and needs. While there is a sense that the gemach is for lowest income Jews who truly need help, this is not necessarily true. There are many opportunities where you can borrow items that you might need for only a short time. The products and services offered are limited only by what you can find, and by the sometimes pride-filled who worry that a gemach is beneath their dignity. Don’t be fooled by this way of thinking; you can’t beat good sense!

Bubbie’s Shtick Gemach provides something even more original, an intangible loan. Managed by Mrs Riss and dedicated to the memory of her mother and mother-in-law, Riss explained that her gemach provides comic relief at a wedding. “I started the gemach to get involved with something happy. The shtick is for wedding entertainment because it is a mitzvah and incumbent upon all of those attending a wedding to make the bride and groom happy. We’ve brought joy to weddings as far away as Paris! There is no charge for the use of the items in the gemach, I just ask that the family replace what is broken. The items include funny hats, beautiful masks, an umbrella and a jump rope for the Kallah. I also have a Mizinka broom, for those who have the custom of doing a dance in which the last child is symbolically “swept away.” I have met so many wonderful people through the gemach, especially when they come to my home to pick up the items. I especially love to talk to the brides themselves.”

A gemach is a discreet charitable organization that loans certain items without charge. In fact, you can borrow items from a gemach that is far from your home, but mostly they service the local community. Many women who run these services have made the effort to do so in the name of a grandparent or for someone in the family. Running a gemach is a pleasing act of chesed that also keeps memories alive.

Angelinos may not have the number of gemachim that you find in on the east coast, especially in cities like New York or Baltimore, but the variety, dedication and sheer number in this city are impressive. Probably 75 gemachim exist, plus a dozen or more small charities that also donate food, supplies, clothes, legal services and medical equipment. In some instances the line between gemachim, which loan for free or for a small fee, and charities, whose tzeddakah is through the free distribution of goods and services, is very small.

Steven Berger maintains a list of active gemachim and he includes certain charities on the same list. “It all stems from necessity. A gemach fulfills certain needs and brings the community together. Also, if you have the money, you have the choice of having your table decorations being created at $100 a piece by someone outside the community, or you can call the Table Decoration gemach and make a donation to a Jewish charity who use high school girls to create fabulous pieces.”

One of the largest charities that is also a gemach is Tomchei Shabbos whose food and supplies are distributed to low income families throughout the city. The organization has a fundraising element and the variety of services provided is impressive. Many people donate their time to sort diaper donations, Shabbos packages and more.

Other groups are part gemach, part charity, for instance Hachnasah Chalah of Los Angeles, who help brides with a limited budget find a wedding dress. They also provide household supplies to help with the demands of building a new home. “We have bridal packages which we give to chalah’s when they choose a wedding gown and then we have a storage place set up with housewares and we let the brides choose linens and dishes in a discrete, but magical way. It’s like a store!” Explained Mrs. Hertz, who runs the Hachnasah Chalah gift gemach.

In difficult times you might need Mrs. Friedman or Mr. Winkler for advice with criminal arrest. Bet Tzadek has free legal services and the Jewish Free Loan Association can help with interest-free loans.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are an eclectic range of gemachim that help with the ebb and flow of the Jewish life cycle. Mrs. Weider can set you up with a hand embroidered brit pillow and infant outfit which will bring extra nachas for the new baby. Mrs. Assaline’s offers brit pillows as well. She started the gemach in memory of her husband’s grandfather. Now in its fourth year, she explained, “It just makes me so happy to help people.” Additional gemachim exist for baby care packages and nursing pumps.

Mrs. Hendeles runs lababygear.com. She shared her latest success, “Recently, someone contacted me asking for a baby swing. I told them I had none at the time. Less than a day later, I received an email from someone else asking if they can donate a baby swing! The timing was perfect. I think I had the first person pick up the item straight from the donator. This kind of thing has been happening a lot lately. I have been running the gemach for over 7 years and the longer I run it, the more I get to make these “baby gear shidduchim!”

Meanwhile, you can contact Mrs. Eidlitz for delightful mirrored dishes and trays that will give panache to your Bar Mitzvah presentation. Need a quantity of tablecloths for the shevah brachot? Call Mrs. Haberman’s gemach, and when family come to town you can borrow a pack-n-play or a car seat from Mrs. Zucker.
Now, how to afford the sharpest togs that your little boy needs for your brother’s wedding? Consider a tuxedo and vest outfit from Mrs. Rubenstein. She offers the outfit for tzedakah l’illuy nishmas of her grandfather and her husband’s grandfather and said, “If anyone would like to donate additional little boy’s outfits to be part of my gemach, that would be great!”

Mrs. Istrin is looking for wig contributions to grow her wig gemach and there are additional gemachs for hats and sheitels. For those who love to read, you can even borrow Binah or Mishpacha magazines. The magazine gemach is in front of the Striks home on Alcove Ave. Just take from the box by the door and return it a few days later.
Does someone in LA have a pacificer gemach? Emergency replacement pacifiers are in meaningful demand by certain unfortunate Shabbat youngsters. Now, how many parents would be using that service?

Community & Gemach Directory 2015 (1)_001