The brand-new ACHI Market (achi613.org) is an online marketplace where 70+ Israel-based vendors can find new customers worldwide.
History repeats itself
During the Second Intifada, Monsey, NY resident Suzanne Weilgus felt a need to do something constructive to help Israeli merchants whose businesses were suffering from a lack of tourism. In response, she organized Ben Yehuda Fairs in Teaneck and in Monsey. Dozens of vendors who were hard-hit by the shutdown in Israeli tourism came to the US to sell their wares.
“The crowds showed that people want to help Israel,” Weilgus commented.
As a result of the severe travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Israeli merchants are struggling once again. Only this time, with limits on public gatherings and quarantine regulations in place, having merchants come to the US to sell their goods in person is not a viable solution.
Undeterred, Weilgus, along with Gloria Gordon, Rochelle Zupnik, Dr. Lynda Zentman and Tova Taragin, breathed new life into American Communities Helping Israel. The five women who run the online ACHI Market attended Yeshiva University High School together in Manhattan more than 50 years ago.
Weilgus shared that she recruited the others by telling them, “‘You have to come on this ride with me. There’s a lot to do.’ Each of us have a different talent. We’ve become like sisters. It’s wonderful! We are such a wonderful team,” she enthused.
Working with Boca Raton’s Stephen Plotsker on the technical end, the ACHI team recruits vendors from all over Israel. An Israeli vendor needs just two things to join the ACHI Market – an ecommerce website in English and the ability to ship goods to customers in the US.
The current ACHI Market categories include art, children, cosmetics, fashion, food, gift stores, jewelry, Judaica, photos and wines of Israel. The team would like to add a masks and safety products category.
In addition to recruiting vendors, the ACHI team is getting ready to launch an extensive social media marketing campaign, directed both to Jewish communities and to the evangelical Christian market. Their plan is to direct traffic to the ACHI Market website, bringing business to Israeli vendors.
Buy Israeli – Deliver in Israel is a section of the ACHI Market website that offers customers the option of making a purchase online, to be delivered to friends and family living in Israel.
Another section is named the Bernard Muschel z’l Ben Yehuda Fair in memory of Weilgus’s father. She sees her work with the ACHI Market as an extension of her father’s values. She noted that, “He was the type of man who always wanted to help someone when they were down. He was an accountant who gave business plans and suggestions [to his clients] if their businesses were failing.” Supplemental efforts
Another part of the ACHI initiative is to encourage homes to have “a dedicated vessel (i.e. dish, bowl, tray) that will be placed in your home, school and office and will always be filled with products from Israel.” The website explains that KLEE stands for “klee l’ezrat Yisroel” – a vessel to help Israel. “By having a KLEE in your home, and filling it with candies or other Israeli products, you are helping the Israeli economy, and keeping Israel in your hearts and minds.” Prior to COVID-19, the ACHI team promoted the KLEE concept in hundreds of synagogues across the US. They were able to convince pulpit rabbis to speak about the importance of helping the Israeli economy by purchasing and consuming products imported from Israel and by having a dedicated KLEE in every household, filled with Israeli treats.
As a result of the campaign to Think Israel – Buy Israeli, some synagogues began to include Israeli foods at kiddushes and meals held in the synagogue.
The ACHI team members look forward to once again presenting their ideas for Think Israel – Buy Israeli at parlor meetings around the US. Instead of asking for money, they teach about the importance of buying Israeli products.
“The last thing we need is another organization to raise money. Instead, we give people actions they can take that can make a difference. This is not about giving tzedakah. We have so many different vendors, and that number is growing every week. We want you to find something you can buy and enjoy. And every time you come back, there will be new products available,” Weilgus shared.
She explained that KLEE also stands for the three divisions of Jews, namely Kohen, Levi and Israel, because “achdut (unity) is so important – to work together to make it work.” A KLEE can be homemade or purchased for oneself or for others. The ACHI team created the hashtag #MyKlee and encourage people to post pictures of their KLEE, filled with goods from Israel, on Facebook and Instagram.
“We want people to share their KLEE and show it to their guests. By making The KLEE commitment, you will help change BDS to ‘Buy Display Support’ Israel,” they explain on their website.
Additionally, drawing on decades of educational experience of the ACHI team, the website includes resources for classroom educators to teach about the value of Ahavat Eretz Yisrael – loving and supporting the Land of Israel.
Recruiting new vendors
Finding the first few vendors for the ACHI Market was challenging because so many of the merchants from the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem had closed up shop and disconnected their numbers. The ACHI team persisted in their networking efforts and, at press time, have signed up more than 70 vendors.
Weilgus hopes that’s only the beginning.
“There’s no limit to how many vendors can be added to the site,” she said. She would especially like to hear from vendors in the fashion and children’s categories.
In the future, the team hopes to be able to subsidize the cost of a Web developer who will help businesses without a website build a basic website so they can join the ACHI Market.
“Right now, we can’t help people without websites,” she said regretfully.
Any vendor who sells a product online that can be shipped from Israel who is interested in being included in the ACHI Market can email the team at contact@ACHI613.org.
“Everyone who qualifies, whether they are designers and manufacturers or retail stores, is welcome,” Weilgus reported.
The ACHI website went live in September, even before the social media marketing plans were implemented.
“We wanted to provide business [for the Israeli vendors] right away and wake up America to know this is available,” she noted.
The initial investment for building and populating the site was covered by donations from the ACHI team. Moving forward, ACHI will get 5% of any sales made through its website. Those funds will help cover the costs of marketing and maintaining the site.
Weilgus is supremely optimistic about the potential for helping Israeli vendors while also raising awareness of the full range of products designed, manufactured and sold in Israel.
“Israel has so many good things people can buy now. We don’t want [our vendors] to be seen as charity cases.”
Rather, “Israel is a vibrant country with wonderful products and people are very happy to do this [to support them],” she concluded.