Jewish Entrepreneurs in the Time of the Coronavirus
By Rachel Teichman
Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, is at the heart of Judaism. Now more than ever, Jewish organizations and individuals are stepping up to see how they can heal communities struck by the Coronavirus, or how to prevent it one person at a time. It is no surprise that three pairs of entrepreneurial women are successfully doing just that. While Jill Zarin, an OG of “The Real Housewives of New York,” claims that “nurses are the mothers of the hospital,” these women are proving that when it comes to moms, they are always ready to care for people beyond their own homes. In speaking with these three pairs of women (each one made up of at least one mother) they share what makes this work possible for them.
San Francisco Bay Area mothers and business owners, Angela Engel and Jeanne Henzel Swartz, both wanted to do something to help medical workers on the frontlines of the Coronavirus. Angela’s childhood friend was a doctor in desperate need of PPE, and Angela knew she could raise money for supplies using her sales and marketing experience in the publishing world. Jeanne Henzel Swartz owns an upholstery shop, and was ready to create shields using her resources, but she needed funding for materials and to pay one employee. Since the two women connected, they have raised $30,000 from 370 donors through GoFundMe. They have created almost 7,000 shields, which have been shipped all over the US, including across California, New York and the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Angela shares that “when this whole pandemic happened I was glad to have a skill set that could do good.” They both had the necessary infrastructure to pivot in this direction, and an “anything is possible” attitude.
When mom Jenny Gustafson and her childhood friend turned business partnner, Melina Soroka, started Menschout, they were already well versed in impact marketing, finding ways for clients to give back. When the quarantine hit their hometown of Houston, TX, they worried about the futures of their clients, many of whom are Jewish owned restaurants and small retailers. Partnering with Allie Danziger and Jason Kohll, they came up with the concept behind Menschout. It is an online directory of local Houston businesses owned by Jewish individuals and families. The goal of the website is twofold: promote local businesses in these challenging times, and allow the businesses to give back by donating a percentage of Monday sales. They are taking things one month at a time for now. Over 100 participants have joined this cause so far. The majority of the companies agreed to donate a percentage of Monday sales in May to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston’s Covid-19 Emergency Appeal. This Covid-19 fund will support relief for individuals and community organizations. The passion which these four entrepreneurs have for their own clients has translated into caring for those beyond their own contact lists. Whether it is graphic design or writing a press release, they have each used their best skills to grow Menschout.
Jill Zarin, was inspired by her sister Lisa Wexler’s recent radio show. Lisa shared that the Clintons had donated twenty pizzas to hospital frontline workers, and Jill was inspired to do the same. Her boyfriend Gary Brody came up with the name Noshes for Nurses, and Jill’s daughter Ally Shapiro manages the day to day logistics. Almost 450 people have donated close to $60,000, and Jill stresses that no donation is too small. “One dollar can buy someone a cookie,” she says. Over 80 hospitals across the country have received their deliveries, from donuts and lunch for nurses to dinner for an entire hospital staff. Jill feels strongly about helping nurses after the wonderful care her late husband Bobby Zarin received at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. She shares that as much as nurses used to do, they now do more since they can not rely on visiting family members to help with personal tasks. She feels nurses are isolated more than ever now, from their own families while keeping them safe, and also physically from each other while wearing PPE. She has used her own marketing skills to get the word out in the press and on social media. Ally receives daily requests for meals for nurses all across the country. As long as there is funding, this cause will continue. When they are not feeding nurses from afar, Ally and Jill are making tie dye masks from home in Florida for Fashion Face Masks by Ally. Ally knows that tie dye is always a summer trend, and she was starting to see it locally. Masks for personal use are another need Ally wanted to combat, so for every mask sold, one is donated to essential workers of all kinds.
Besides the integral involvement of Jewish mothers, the other quality which connects these three endeavors is the speed at which they all came to fruition. All of these founders understood that time is of the essence, and in some cases it was a mere 24 hours from idea to establishing a fund. In the case of the PPE Fund, Angela and husband Dan Engel loaned a substantial amount of money to establish the fundraiser and to buy the first round of mylar for the shields. Jill Zarin is grateful for a handful of wonderful friends who were her first large contributors. And the team behind Menschout, as with all of these endeavors, has put in an enormous amount of time connecting people with resources and information, their time being an essential in-kind donation.
Rachel Teichman lives in Houston, TX, where she contributes to The Buzz Magazines. For more information, visit www.rachelteichman.com or @craftsandcrumbs on Instagram.