Much to Learn from Frum Women

Billed as the ‘largest kosher bakery in Europe,’ Mr. Baker is a great meeting spot, punkt in the heart of one of London’s main Jewish thoroughfares. Israeli taxi drivers, Polish builders, Slovakian au-pairs and Hendon housewives can all be found drinking coffee and eating fresh pastries in this huge bakery-cum-coffee shop.

In a country where trees are not adorned with notices and their tear-off telephone numbers, kosher shops are an important part of the information highway. Free notices about shiurim, items for sale and job vacancies within the community are common. Last Friday, I saw a 14 page booklet – The Gemach Database – on the information counter. An acronym for ‘Gemilut Hasidim’  (trans. acts of kindness), a Gemach is essentially an organisation that loans useful items for free. This Gemach Database has a comprehensive list of facilities including all the typical ones such baby equipment, bedding for extra guests, clothing, medical necessities and catering equipment. However, there are also the unusual ones including  ‘Humane pest control – animal friendly traps for catching mice, rats, squirrels, etc without harming them,’ ‘Bubble blowing machine for use at parties,’ and the ‘Cut Price Bris Service,’ (did they intend the pun?), while the most sensitive Gemach has to be the spare breast milk supplied by nursing mothers for premature babies.

Women in the religious community know how to organise themselves in ways that other communities can only dream of. I showed this Gemach database to a friend who is not connected to the religious community at all – she was very impressed and immediately labelled it as a ‘model of community empowerment, resource sharing and grass-roots social action.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘you’ve completely missed the point. This is just frum women doing what they do – it’s part of being frum and belonging to a community.’ While it may serve as a good example of the sociology of religion, it is more significantly, religion writ-large. These women keep the social engines well-oiled, organising the nitty-gritty of day to day life with total selflessness and modesty. ‘Social action’ is currently being touted as an important tool for strengthening Jewish identity – I’d say the wider community have a lot to learn from these women

–Modesty  Blasé

3 comments on “Much to Learn from Frum Women

  1. Mark Dembovsky on

    I enjoyed your well written article on The Gemach Database.

    Whilst I agree that our frum women are very often the unsung heros of our community, The Gemach Database was researched and published by a man – me – in response to the fact that it was always well nigh impossible to find out who was responsible for any particular gemach.

    Many thanks for bringing The Gemach Database to everyone’s attention. I have printed and distributed 1,200 copies already and am constantly updating the list.

  2. Barbara Miller on

    Hi (and to you too Mark Dembovsky)- thanks to Lillith and the blogger for the inforamtion on the Gemach Database. Havent been able to access site yet!

    As a Jewish Social Activist in South Africa, I am constantly looking for working examples of community development tools. This one sounds valuable.

    I strive, pesonally and professionally (I work for (MaAfrika Tikkun make manifest the philosphy of Tikkun Olam, by:

    (a)motivating and deepenening the Jewish community’s connection with the broader South African community. Jewish communities have rather “successful templates” of support structures which have contributed to our survival – to make a “shiduch” between Jewish organisations and south African grassroot organisations

    (b) assisting with the restoration and resucitaiton of the community fabric – with our history of community destruction (both Jewish and South African)this feeds my “reason d’etre”

    In community

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