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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

As Batsheva Rosen Weisinger described it, she’s had a vision since her days in seminary of an innovative project that would benefit people in need in Jerusalem while also cutting down on unnecessary waste. When the opportunity presented itself years later, she and her husband, Zevi, knew they had to act.

Mind you, Batsheva and Zevi Weisinger, formerly of Washington Heights, had plenty of other things to keep them busy. Both have very demanding jobs. Batsheva has a background in neuroscience and serves as the staff scientist at BrainQ, a start-up company in Jerusalem. BrainQ is investigating ways to harness brain waves and bodily electrical impulses to treat people with neurological disorders and give them greater capabilities. Zevi is the logistics, events and kitchen manager for Kinamon Caterers, a well-established simcha caterer in Jerusalem.

Additionally, Batsheva and Zevi serve, respectively, as director of logistics and director of operations for the Pesach Program of Upscale Getaways at a hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, a joint project they’ve run for the last five years.

Batsheva and Zevi also have three young children—Amalya, 4; Betzalel, 2; and Calev, 1. In addition, they face the challenges of being semi-recent olim (within the past five years) who maintain an observant household.

The Weisingers’ plan, and their incredible capability to juggle so much in their lives, is no surprise to those who knew them when they lived in New Jersey. Zevi’s parents live in Teaneck and are members of Beth Aaron Congregation. He attended the Yeshiva of Virginia in Richmond and then Yeshiva University, where he was involved in many student activities. Batsheva is a graduate of Bruriah High School in Elizabeth and Stern College. While at Stern she was an honors student and a resident advisor, in addition to participating in student and community activities. She also served for one year as interim director of the youth program at the Rosen family’s shul, Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park, while the shul searched for a new youth director.

But that’s all beside the point. When Zevi and Batsheva were visiting their local makolet (supermarket) in the Shchunat Pat neighborhood one day about eight months ago, they watched as the owner started clearing out all the bananas that no longer looked sellable but were still very edible. Zevi asked the owner, Nimrod, if he and his wife could take all the unsellable bananas and return them in a form that could be given to families that could use some help.

Batsheva and Zevi joke that, with Zevi’s heavily accented Hebrew, they believe that Nimrod probably thought they were asking for the bananas for themselves. That would explain why he was surprised when they returned days later with 18 loaves of banana bread that they’d cooked and asked for his help in distributing them.

Nimrod is the perfect ally in their venture, as he distributes matanot l’evyonim in the neighborhood and is known to quietly forgive the accumulated charges of families who cannot pay. Once the Weisingers’ idea became clear to him, Nimrod happily signed on and discretely distributed the banana breads. From there a new chesed initiative, which also prevents unnecessary waste from going to landfills, was born.

The Weisingers named their overall initiative Yesh Me’ayin, Something From Nothing, and describe it as a “grassroots project to take items destined for the trash and turn them into usable products, especially for those in need.” They’ve branded their partnership with the local makolet as Oscar’s Kitchen, and it is active on a weekly basis. Another program in its early stages, Dewey’s Library, will function as a gemach of tools for household repairs.

Over the past six months the Weisingers have taken a variety of unsellable food items from Nimrod and produced quarts of soup, jars of marmalade, large containers of garden salad, orange juices, vegetable kugels, peach preserves, tomato sauce and other delicacies.

As their neighbors have become aware of their initiatives, they’ve pitched in to support the work. The Weisingers recently received dozens of glass mason jars, saving more items from the trash and providing durable and reusable containers for storing and sharing the results of their cooking frenzies. One neighbor contributed a used juicer to the cause and another provided a new juicer and a dehydrator.

Batsheva’s father, Ira Rosen of Highland Park, who is assisting his daughter and son-in-law in promoting Yesh Me’ayin, is very proud of their work on this project. He joked, “They are only working a few jobs each and raising three wonderful children. So of course, in their spare time, they’re going to try to save the world.” Her mom, Heidi, added: “Of course I’m so proud of them for their effort... they are caring for their family, their community and the planet.”

Batsheva and Zevi each have a vision of the growth and potential of Yesh Me’ayin. Batsheva wants to see it grow “into a true community initiative, involving many volunteers, perhaps as a warehouse operation or a network of contributors. And it can encompass much more than food; people can find ways to repurpose other important goods, like used clothes, furniture and other items. We can create tremendous opportunities to help others and cut down on waste.”

Zevi is interested in solidifying the sourcing of goods and the delivery process, to develop a working proof of concept. “Once we’ve got a strong proof of concept, then we can approach other makolets and potential funders. And we can develop one-year and two-year plans.”

To learn more about Yesh Me’ayin and follow its growth, “Like” their page on Facebook.

By Harry Glazer