Learn more about a woman taking the initiative to help the Jewish community.
Mrs. Jessica Katz, Co-founder and Director of International Office, Yad Leah
1. Why did you start Yad Leah?
Fifteen years ago, my friend, Karen Thaler, who I met as a teen inEtz Chayim NCSY, came to New Jersey for a visit after making Aliyah. Some friends mentioned they had clothing they weren’t using anymore, and Karen thought her friends in Israel might want them. We sent a few boxes, thinking this would be a one-time chessed project.
Not only were the clothes wanted but very needed. Profound poverty was right in Karen’s backyard. The more we gave, the more was needed; the more we collected, the more we saw that people wanted to part with their clothes in a meaningful way.
Eventually, we needed more space. We rented an apartment inBeitar exclusively for Yad Leah and noticed certain clothes were left over. At this point we asked ourselves, are we a resource for one community or for allKlal Yisrael? We decided that we serve any Jew that needs clothing, regardless of political or religious affiliation. Since then, we have opened gemachs in over 30 communities.
2. From start to finish, how do clothes make it from the US to Israel? What’s the process?
Clothing is collected in a couple of ways. We have our collection facility in Passaic, New Jersey, and a drop off in Teaneck. We also organize clothing drives throughout the year in Southern and Central New Jersey and Long Island. We have even gone as far as Boston, Dallas, and Beverly Hills.
Once clothes reach our facility, they are sorted by volunteers and full-time staff, boxed and sent to Israel by boat. Every box is designated for a community, tailored to their needs. Our recent shipment for the pre-Yom Tovseason had 1,200 boxes, totaling 60,000 items.
3. What advice would you give to a woman who has a goal and vision but isn’t sure how to start?
Make yourself a learner. Research what the need is [for your project] and use all your resources to learn as much as you can about process, industry and how to fulfill your goals. Wake up every day and ask, what can I learn today?
Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know – there are a lot of resources online. Find people who have the expertise you are lacking and learn from them.
Think big while creating systems for the nitty gritty details. Find people to help with the details, who help you think big and generate ideas. They will catapult you to places you wouldn’t have imagined.
4. We were thrilled to have you at the OU Women’s Initiative Lay Leadership Summit! What is a highlight of your experience there?
I gained so much from meeting other women with similar goals, discussing challenges with others who understand, sharing in the bigger picture, and how can we partner.
We still collaborate on the Lay Leadership WhatsApp group that formed from the Summit. For example, I had questions about a grant and one of the women stepped up, wanted to help and wrote the grant. That wouldn’t have been possible without the Summit.
Getting involved in Yad Leah is easy and meaningful. To bring your family, school, or group into the warehouse to lend a hand or to contribute in other ways, go to https://yadleah.org/