In 2001, David Ehrlich, an Israeli promotional filmmaker originally from New York, was down on his luck. He and his wife, Gail, a pre-school teacher, had recently moved their family from Jerusalem to Efrat, but the Second Intifada and a dip in the finances of non-profits had thrown a wrench into his business.
Ehrlich kept davening for a big production to get them out of the hole. He approached Reb Michal Dorfman, z”l, a Breslover Rebbe in Jerusalem, and asked him for a berachah for a particular production on which he was bidding.
“The rebbe wouldn’t give it to me,” recalls Ehrlich. “He said, ‘Hashem will give you what you need, not what you think you need.’
“Little did I realize that Hashem had already given me that berachah, and she lived with me in our home. The blessing was my wife and her talent and skill for both baking and organizing and ultimately being the driving force that got our cookies business off the ground. Gili’s Goodies was born out of desperation… and hashgacha pratit.”
What began as (literally) a cottage industry – with the Ehrlich’s kitchen, dining and living rooms, and den being the location of the industry – eventually moved into a converted laundry room at Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, and today the Ehrlichs work round the clock churning out batches of cookies, cakes, and other goodies.
Pre-Purim is their busiest season because parents of students on gap year programs in Israel who send care packages to their children throughout the year make an extra effort before Purim. Last year 1,500 baskets of Purim delicacies were ordered online or via phone for delivery throughout Israel – about half of those to gap year students.
Full disclosure: I am honored to have played a small part in Gili’s creation. Gili’s Goodies began when we founded the Raise Your Spirits women’s theater of Gush Etzion. Our first production was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved musical “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and I directed it. We thought we would do two performances but they mushroomed to 12, and we’ve been going ever since with five subsequent original biblical musicals performed before almost 40,000 women.
In August 2001, we needed someone to run our concession stand and I remembered that Gail Ehrlich baked fabulous cookies. I asked David if his family would run the refreshment counter in the lobby before the show and during intermission. David, for whom I used to write video scripts, had helped me out once when I needed a loan and I thought, “What better way to return the favor?”
Their cookies were a huge hit and the rest is history.
For the Ehrlichs, though, the cookies are not just a business. They are also a vehicle to do chesed. In addition to sending gift baskets and birthday cakes all over Israel, Gili’s Goodies is heavily involved in projects that benefit Israel’s soldiers and people in need.
The Ehrlichs have been instrumental in sending gift packages to Shalva, a program for children with special needs, to the elderly and homebound through Yad Sarah, and to soldiers on the front during operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, and other times.
For Purim 2007, they partnered with the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey to deliver shipments containing packages of fresh-baked delicacies and wine to soldiers in Ramallah, where there were Palestinian riots.
“I have no words to describe their emotions when they saw that Jews so far away
thought about them and sent them these packages,” said Colonel Ben-Zion Gruber at the time, commander of the 14th tank brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. “This proves that in the end we really are one nation.”
Many of the soldiers to whom they deliver packages are “lone soldiers,” soldiers without any family in Israel.
This year, they are working together with the ZOA, the World Mizrachi Movement, and Young Israel, and distribution of their packages is being done in conjunction with the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center.
Gili’s also tries to educate others to do chesed. For the last two years, it has involved students from schools, midrashot, and yeshivot who help in the packing of packages that are delivered to soldiers.
Of course, whenever a good thing hits the market, there will be copycats. But the Ehrlichs accept this gladly. “At the time that we began baking and selling what has become our ‘signature’ cookie, our ‘Chocolate Krinkel,’ ” said David, “I had never seen one on any shelf in any bakery or store in Israel. Within a year, I saw it on the counter of a well-known coffee chain. But I realized that imitation was the greatest form of flattery!”
Gail continues to oversee the cookie production and David is in charge of marketing to tourist and Internet markets. He’s often the one who delivers the packages. He kvells as he describes what it is like to see the looks on the faces of homesick kids or soldiers about to go into battle. “Making a parnassa is great, but the feeling I get when I see a yeshiva or seminary student get a sweet hug from home is an amazing feeling! The feeling I had when I personally delivered 18,000 cookies to the Gaza front was the most emotional highlight of our soldier campaign…ever!
Ehrlich says that one of the most heart-wrenching experiences he had was sending 300 boxes of goodies to families who had been uprooted from their homes in Gush Katif in August, 2005. I know first hand how he felt. Our daughter’s family, expelled from Atzmona were the recipients of one of those boxes. I will never forget how moved she was. There on the one little table, in their tiny room that held their family of (then) five, was a big box of Gili’s Goodies. She didn’t even know who they were from.
“I’ll tell you,” I said to her. “They are from David and Gail Ehrlich. And it all began during the Intifada of 2001. Here’s the story…”
Gili’s Goodies can be ordered for Purim via www.gilisgoodies.com, 866-721-7292 and 052- 2631808 (in Israel); and Gilisgoodies on Facebook/Skype.
About the Author: Toby Klein Greenwald is the artistic director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.
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