Hungry to help Israel Enterprising bar mitzvah assists

Bisslie and Bamba — fried flavored snacks that are to Israelis what potato chips are to Americans — are not easy to find in the Bay Area.

This is one reason an eighth-grader from Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael decided to publish a list of Web sites and Marin County stores that sell Israeli-made products.

Nate Gelman, who completed the list for his bar mitzvah tzedakah project, said he wanted to help Israel "any way I could. I wanted to help stimulate [its] economy since it's kind of been in a recession."

In April Gelman's list was published in Voice, the newsletter of Reform Congregation Rodef Sholom, where Gelman had his bar mitzvah in May. It also ran in February in his school's newspaper, Hadashot.

"I didn't really want to do one of those ordinary projects with old-age homes," says Gelman. "I wanted to do something original."

But that is not the only reason the 13-year-old and his parents went Israeli food-hunting throughout Marin County, coming up a list of merchants who stock falafel mix, chocolate bars, shoes and sea salts.

In addition, Gelman's project was a response to a recent boycott of Israeli products by San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery. "By bringing people's attention to other supermarkets," he says, he hopes to partially compensate for the anti-Israel publicity.

Moji Javid, program director at Rodef Sholom, says she talks to many b'nai mitzvah students as they decide on their independent tzedakah projects. A list of some agencies to contact is handed out to everyone, but Javid says that increasingly, kids like Gelman are coming up with their own original ideas.

"Instead of just going and volunteering for a place, [Gelman] went out and did all this research," says Javid. "People really appreciated having someone do all the leg-work for them."

And Javid says she is one of them. On Gelman's tip she rediscovered a market in her neighborhood that is heavily stocked with Israeli items she never knew it had.

Although it is easy to shop online for almost anything Israeli, offline these products are harder to find locally without help such as Gelman's list. Friends and fellow congregants of Rodef Sholom have let the Gelman family know how useful the shopping list has been.

Scotty's Market in Terra Linda seems to have particularly benefited from the added publicity. Its manager, Dale Lee, says the Israeli section sold unusually well when the list was published in Voice and Hadashot.

Gelman described Scotty's as having "by far the best selection of Israeli food products…A large line of Elite chocolates can be found…in the kosher section. The Elite candy bars (especially the twist bars) are delicious."

Happy to learn that Gelman was looking for new places to publish his list, Lee says he could now use the extra promotion since sales have gone down.

Although Gelman says he had fun tasting some of the products, he will not be doing any more research or checking out any other stores soon. However, he does stay actively pro-Israel in other ways. "Sometimes when I see people protesting [against Israel] on the streets, I go and argue with them," he says.

He also plans on writing for the Middle East section of his school newspaper.

His mother, Ingrid Gelman, confirmed that her son gets riled up by protesters, sometimes shouting to them from the Gelmans' moving car, which she wishes he would not do.

"I just hope he doesn't get beat up," she says. But the younger Gelman's strategy isn't always so impulsive. "He's a [pro-Israel] spokesman with his friends," says Ingrid Gelman. "He's all grown up."