Upon her return from Shlichut in North America, Monica became the director of a new Jewish Agency program for Israelis living abroad – a program that she ushered from concept to reality. Last June, as she was completing her role with that project, the security situation in the south was escalating, and she searched for a way to use her connections and skills in social media.
“Like everyone, I started with Israel advocacy on my social media networks,” she says. “And then I connected with various initiatives that were taking action on behalf of businesses in the south. There is an incredible amount of organization going into fairs, large wholesale purchasing from the south, ‘open houses’ in central Israel for selling goods from the south, etc.”
“Meanwhile,” she says, “I was continuing my connections with friends overseas, and saw how cut off they were from all this activity. There were hardly any English-language materials about how to support the south. So I took the initiative and created a platform – a new domain name and a Facebook page connected to it – that allows supporters of Israel who live overseas to buy goods and services from residents of the south. If they wish, they can donate the goods within Israel, for example to IDF soldiers on the frontlines, injured soldiers, or families in need. Or, of course, they can purchase the goods and services for their own use.
Cohen reports that since she is working as an individual, and not as part of an organization, she turned once again to her social media connections, and quickly recruited almost 50 people from Israel, the United States, and other countries worldwide, who are working on her initiative in various capacities. For example, the volunteers call businesses in southern Israel and render their business information into English, to upload to the website. Others are working on spreading the word about the website to supporters of Israel around the world.
“Each of these people is donating their time, money, and heart,” Cohen says. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the needs of businesses in southern Israel, and introduce those businesses to English-speakers in Israel and around the world. Our target audience includes Israelis abroad, Jews, Christian supporters of Israel, and anyone who wishes to support Israel’s economy. Our message is not political in any way. Those who are against Israel’s war in Gaza can still express their love of Israel by participating in the country’s economy.”
At first, Cohen says, when the volunteers contact the businesses, the owners are often suspicious. “We have to tell them over and over that we’re volunteers, fellow citizens of Israel who care about them, and that we have no desire or intention to make money off of this. We’re not a formal organization that will take money out of their pockets. But once they see their information on the website, they give us good feedback.”
Since purchases are not made through Cohen’s website, she has no way of tracking the value of sales made so far. However, she sees signs that the work of the volunteers is effective. For example, they urged a local caterer, whose business had dried up completely, to market packaged meals to send to injured soldiers and their families at Soroka hospital. A t-shirt printing company in Kiryat Gat caught the attention of a group of Israelis abroad, who made a large order of shirts to send to soldiers in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Cohen has big dreams for the website, though she hopes that peaceful times will come soon and that she’ll be able to change the name of the concept from “Israeli Businesses Under Fire” to something else. Eventually, for example, she’d like to create an English webpage for each individual business. “It would take a larger budget and a more serious organizational basis,” she says. “Right now it’s all volunteer. I’d love to connect with serious partners who could help me turn this into a larger-scale project to support the economy of the south.”