For another twelve-year-old girl, the quest for an appropriate Bat Mitzvah project evolved into a continuing movement to collect kosher food for soldiers, now in its fifth year.
Kosher Troops got its start with the bat mitzvah of Leah Fuerst, now a seventeen-year-old Monsey high schooler. The idea began quite simply: an Israeli themed event, with a blue and white color scheme, a Middle Eastern menu and, given the time of year, packaging mishloach manos for Israeli soldiers. But as the idea began to take shape in the mind of Sara Fuerst, the mother of the guest of honor, the focus shifted to helping Jewish members of the United States military.
“My father-in-law had had a job with the government and was stationed in Germany for two years,” explained Mrs. Fuerst. “I remembered that for military members, you could ship to an APO box for a nominal amount of money.”
Figuring that by keeping shipping costs down she could send packages to more people, Mrs. Fuerst changed her focus.
“There had to be Jews in the American army,” recalled Mrs. Fuerst. “I started calling around. I called West Point and the Jewish welfare board and by the time the bat mitzvah rolled around we had the names of approximately 150 Jewish soldiers.”
While Leah’s party was a small affair for her nearest and dearest, the Fuersts contacted what Mrs. Fuerst termed “all the people we would have invited had we been making a wedding,” and the donations came rolling in.
In addition to shipping out packages with snacks, Sudoku books, anti microbial socks, candies and other items, including Meal Mart ready to eat meals for the soldiers who kept kosher, the guests wrote letters to the soldiers as well.
“The response we got was incredible and we realized that while we had sent the soldiers packages for Purim, what we were going to do about Pesach?” said Mrs. Fuerst.
And with that, Kosher Troops really came into being.
Working hand in hand with partner Ava Hamburger, the pair solicited donations from both individuals and local businesses. A Kosher Troops collection bin was placed in Wesley Kosher, a local kosher supermarket, encouraging shoppers to contribute goods on their way out of the store. Kosher Troops sent out packages for Pesach, followed by additional shipments in time for Shavuos and Rosh Hashana.
To date, Kosher Troops has sent out packages to approximately 5,000 soldiers, on army bases in the United States as well as in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Qatar. Donations come both from local vendors, including shrink wrapped challahs from the Rockland County based Challah Fairy as well as national and international companies including Streits, Manishewitz, Golden Blossom, Kedem, Entenmanns, Abeles and Heymann, Gold’s, Osem, Yehuda Matzos, Zadies Bake Shop, Joyva, JoBurg Kosher, La Briute, Amazing Savings, King Zak Industries and J.R. Kelly.
“There are other organizations that do what we do, but none of them do as much as we do,” said Mrs. Fuerst. “I never dreamed into would turn into anything like this.”