By Toby Klein Greenwald
In 2001, David Ehrlich, an Israeli promotional filmmaker originally from New York, was down on his luck. He and his wife, Gail, a preschool teacher, had recently moved their family from Jerusalem to Efrat, but the second intifada and a dip in the finances of nonprofits had thrown a wrench into his business.
Ehrlich kept davening, he says, 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 cookie business off the ground.”
Cookie business? For a filmmaker?
Today, almost 12 years later, Ehrlich says, “Gili’s Goodies was born out of desperation . . . and hashgacha pratit”–Divine intervention.
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 they 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 through the Gili’s website or with a phone call, make the extra effort at Purim. Last year, 1,500 baskets of Purim delicacies were ordered 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 twelve 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? His chesed continued throughout the show season; during every intermission he’d slip me a little bag of cookies to share with the tech crew.
Their cookies were a huge hit–and the rest is history.
But today the Ehrlich’s chesed takes on much larger proportions. In addition to sending gift baskets and birthday cakes all over Israel, Gili’s Goodies is heavily involved in projects that benefit people in need and Israel’s soldiers.
They 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 a shipment 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 educates about chesed. For the last two years, they’ve included 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 Ehrlich accepts this philosophically. “At the time that we began baking and selling what has become our ‘signature’ cookie, our ‘Chocolate Krinkel,’ if I’m not mistaken, 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” emotionally 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 parnassah (livelihood) 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-rending 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 firsthand how he felt. Our daughter’s family, expelled from Atzmona, whose residents were taken in by the good people of Kibbutz Shaalbim, 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. “They are from David and Gail Ehrlich. And it all began during the intifada of 2001. Here’s the story . . .” v
Gili’s Goodies can be ordered for Purim (or any time). Contact info: www.gilisgoodies.com; 866-721-7292; 052-2631808 (in Israel); Facebook//Skype Gilisgoodies.
The author, a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times, is the artistic director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.