'I have 6,000 messages on my Whatsapp right now'

Israeli charity aims to provide it all for soldiers, including mobile laundry and spas

With a special orientation towards reserve soldiers and evacuee families, the Klal Yisroel Organization also wants to bridge the religious-secular divide

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Shai Graucher on a mobile laundry truck his charity provides to IDF soldiers. (courtesy)
Shai Graucher on a mobile laundry truck his charity provides to IDF soldiers. (courtesy)

The sprawling tent warehouse thrums with activity as dozens of volunteers grab disparate items from the well-stocked shelves. They’re to be organized into numbered and labeled care packages going to various communities in need. Clothing of all kinds, non-perishable food, religious items, toys and games, electronics and more are all piled high along the neat rows. The atmosphere feels frantic with activity.

The volunteers are a mix of women and men, religious and secular. In one corner there is a logistics desk with several computers, where the items are tallied and kept track of. The far side of the warehouse is open, and trucks regularly pull up to drop off more donations or purchases, with a dedicated volunteer on hand to break down cardboard boxes for recycling.

The operation, located near the entrance to Mevo Horon, a religious settlement just across the Green Line near Modi’in, is the brainchild of Rabbi Shai Graucher, who recently has become well-known in the Jewish social media sphere due to his daily postings about his charitable efforts.

Graucher was born in Petach Tivka, but grew up speaking English both at home in Israel and in several trips to the United States to the extent that his Hebrew is spoken in a heavy American accent. He is the son of well-known Hassidic cantor Dudi Graucher, who recently passed away. Graucher was close to the late Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who was one of the main ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel, but these days, Graucher is busy with running his multi-million dollar charity, the Klal Yisroel Organization.

“We have been doing it since 2017, helping families of terror victims with support, with money, and taking care of soldiers,” Graucher tells the Times of Israel, sitting down briefly in one corner of the warehouse.

Sitting is unusual for him these days as usually, he is the center of a whirlwind of activity, with a crowd of volunteers and associates circling at all times, asking questions and waiting for directions.

“I have 6,000 messages on my Whatsapp right now,” he says.

The Klal Yisroel Organization warehouse in Mevo Horon, on November 8, 2023. (Gavriel Fiske/Times of Israel)

When the war broke out on October 7, that evening he immediately started making calls and setting up more donations and aid. The warehouse operation was put up within 48 hours, he says, and a name for the campaign, “Standing Together,” was chosen. Now they have around $2 million worth of goods there at any one time, and an average of two trucks full of items leave each hour for various destinations.

October 7, which was both Shabbat and the Simchat Torah holiday, saw thousands of Hamas terrorists burst into Israeli territory around Gaza in a well-planned, surprise attack. Hamas committed pogroms and atrocities in Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip before security forces restored order, and over 1,400 citizens were killed and over 240 kidnapped, setting off the current Israel-Hamas war.

Israel subsequently called up some 360,000 reserve forces, and evacuated more than 200,000 citizens from areas around Gaza and along the northern border with Lebanon. These are the two populations that Graucher’s organization attempts to help the most.

Hearing from family members in the IDF, “We knew already that the reserves were at 150 percent, so there was going to be missing equipment,” he says. In addition to providing all kinds of equipment and food, the organization has a fleet of three laundry trucks, complete with working washing machines and ironing boards, and has done over 12,000 loads of laundry for soldiers.

“We have a new truck of spas, jacuzzis and showers for the soldiers coming out of Gaza now; they need the support, they need to relax, for them it’s amazing,” he explains.

“The most important thing is to show respect, to give people the feeling that we are with them. Not just to [for example] come to a hospital, here’s five iPads, goodbye. No. To come, To see a soldier, to hear what happened, and then you are hearing that every single person, every single soldier, is a hero,” he says. he says.

“We had a very big problem before this war, we had a lot of sinat chinam,” he continues, using the Hebrew phrase for “baseless hatred.”

“People were hating each other, so what I am doing is trying to bring people together. No more haredi, secular, hassidic, no! We are one country,” he says emphatically.

The organization has a separate location for preparing hot meals and perishable food. They are even working with seminaries in Jerusalem sending volunteers to help clean houses at the end of the week, to help overwhelmed mothers whose husbands have been called up for reserve duty.

The organization also runs a kollel, a religious center where Torah is studied and prayers are given for the success of IDF operations. Graucher’s team also organizes morale-boosting BBQ parties which attract a mixed religious-secular crowd.

Shai Graucher, center, with soldiers his organization has sent donated items to, in an undated photo. (courtesy)

Graucher has a humble air, but is well-connected and has a knack for publicity. He has an album of photos on his phone showing his various activities and photo-ops with famous personalities in the Jewish world, and leverages his connections to provide donations, which top $4.5 million dollars to date, according to a recent eJewish Philanthropy report.

The warehouse tent is currently a hub of charitable activity 24/6, as the operation shuts down on Shabbat, the only time Graucher admits he gets a full night’s sleep. He is already thinking ahead to when the war is over, and shows this reporter a rendering of a building he wants to erect on the site, a center for orphans whose parents perished in the war.

“My dream is. . . because my father was an orphan and got married without parents, for him it was a very difficult thing,” he says. “My father was a very famous person and did a lot of good deeds, and after losing him, it’s a big thing for my family to be part of the chesed my father left us,” using the Hebrew word for charity.

The Klal Yisroel Organization warehouse in Mevo Horon, on November 8, 2023. (Gavriel Fiske/Times of Israel)

The interview concluded, Graucher gets up and turns to the crowd waiting patiently for his attention. Two soldiers come in, looking for more gloves and cold-weather gear for their unit. One volunteer explains how they are waiting for a shipment of jackets and winter items, bought in South Africa and to be sent to Israel this week on an El Al cargo plane.

Deeper in the stacks, a group of women are patiently sorting children’s clothes to be sent in individual packets to evacuee families. They are a group of accountants, but their CPA firm sends its workers regularly to do volunteer work. It is their first time here.

“Everyone is trying to do what they can,” Bracha, one of the accountants, says. “It’s so special, what’s going on here.”

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