By Kayla Steinberg
Zev Namrow, 19, is always eager to help when “a fellow yid is in need,” he said, using slang for “Jew.” For the weekly Chesed Day at his gap year yeshivah in Israel, he chose to volunteer as a “shuk shlepper,” gathering groceries and other essentials for the elderly.
So when he returned to the Washington area from Israel due to the coronavirus, Namrow knew he wanted to create a system that would help the elderly as the virus worsened. “I had to do something,” he said. “I felt a moral obligation.”
He partnered with Shalom Strictly Kosher Market to start “Am Yisrael vs. COVID-19 Maryland Shleppers,” a program pairing around 60 students with community members who need help getting groceries.
The program fills several holes created by the coronavirus. Students can fill their extra time while helping Potomac, White Oak and Kemp Mill community members at risk get groceries. And for each order, the program tacks on a $10 donation to Yad Yehuda of Greater Washington, which provides coronavirus assistance among other services.
Ben Zatman, a junior at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, saw a message about the program in his grade’s WhatsApp chat and knew he needed to join. “Not only am I helping people who can’t shop for themselves, it also gives me the opportunity to get fresh air and do something,” he said. “It’s a mutual benefit!”
Zatman has delivered more than two dozen orders. His days are packed: classes from 9:30-11 a.m., orders during his 11 a.m.-1 p.m. break, classes from 1-2:30 p.m., run after class and two or three more orders before bed.
The Maryland Shleppers are swamped: They have filled around 100 orders since the program’s March 17 start, and Namrow expects a flurry of orders after Passover.
Faith Ginsburg is one of the community members they have helped. Shlepper Dahlia Albert, a high school junior at Yeshiva of Greater Washington, filled Ginsburg’s first order. She called Ginsburg with specific questions in the store, and Ginsburg happily described which items she wanted. “I know that store like I know my own kitchen,” she said.
Ginsburg was so grateful for Albert and the Shleppers that she recommended the service to several of her friends and continues to reach out to Albert when she needs groceries.
“To me, this is a win, win, win, win, win,” she said. “I had a wonderful shopping experience. I helped support a local business, which I need. And I helped support a charity, which is just wonderful, at the same time.”
Albert loves helping community members like Ginsburg. “She’s like a bubbe,” Albert said of Ginsburg. “I enjoy doing it for her because she’s just so sweet, and it means so much to me that I can help someone that really, really, really needs it. I can’t imagine someone like her having to go to the store to get sick when I can go to the store for her.”
Albert fills around three orders per day. It means she needs to work extra hard to finish her orders and her schoolwork, but for her, the effort is worth it.
“Doing something nice for someone else — to me it’s just a no-brainer,” Albert said. “Just something small like going to the store for someone else… it’s a chesed [a kindness] — you can’t describe what it means to people.”
The Am Yisrael vs. COVID-19 program has now expanded beyond Maryland with more than 1,000 volunteers in Maryland, New York and New Jersey.
Responding to the coronavirus has been a communal effort. “All different schools all of a sudden connecting and working together, and the shuls themselves uniting and helping one another out — it’s really tremendous to see how we’re all really fighting for the same team and we’ve all got each other’s backs,” said Namrow.
“It’s going to take a united community to fight this, and we need to work together during these trying times,” he added. “Together, we can overcome anything.”