Dovid Fine is the founder and CEO of Recharge: Vacation Relief Fund in Toronto, Canada
1) How does the vacation gemach work?
Essentially, what we do is provide low-income families with the opportunity to take a brief getaway for free. Vacation or taking a physical and mental break from life’s everyday stresses is vital to a healthy lifestyle and to maintaining healthy family units. While we aren’t flying people around the world, we do send them for short getaways, three days or so, within driving distance. It’s game-changing for the family with a child suffering from brain cancer, or families where there’s a degenerative disease, people with mental and physical health issues, kollel families, widows, rabbanim, single parents, people struggling with fertility, and more.
2) What gave you the idea?
In 2020, when no one could really go anywhere because of tough Covid restrictions, I noticed that the only people who went away were those who had cottages — I’m Canadian, that’s what we call bungalows. Everyone else was stuck inside with kids bouncing off the walls. I remember thinking about the wellbeing of those families, spending the summer stuck inside. There’s this story about Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l giving envelopes to his gabbai to deliver to poor families before Yom Tov. Along with money, Rav Shlomo Zalman sent tickets to the zoo. He understood that these families couldn’t afford to take their kids on Chol Hamoed trips, and he didn’t want the children to feel bad when they went back to school and heard about everyone else’s trips and didn’t have anything to contribute. This is gadlus! Now, I don’t have money, I don’t own a cottage, but I realized we have to think about people who are struggling with this new no-vacation reality. With that in mind, I began to raise a little money to send away a couple of families that could use the break.
3) How many people have you sent on vacation?
Since we began in 2020, we’ve sent well over 100 families — that’s 500 people. Wow! It’s crazy for me to even process that. The summer is the busiest time of year — 90 percent of our clients take vacations during the two or three weeks after Tishah B’Av, bein hazmanim. We did a Chanukah run last year, and we’re looking to add some winter vacations during the yeshivah break in February, too.
4) Who’s your clientele?
We work with all types of frum Jews here: Litvish, Sephardic, Chabad, Bobov, Modern Orthodox. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lack of clients — we have a waiting list because there’s lots of need. And not just Toronto, we’ve had people calling from other parts of Canada, the States, even Israel! Right now, we’re focusing on Toronto, but we do hope to expand in the future.
5) What makes someone eligible for a free vacation?
People with additional hardships beyond the norm of low income take precedence. Klei kodesh make up 25 percent of our clients, they’re the real moser nefesh types who live on minimal income — they’re usually renters. Either the family submits an application or someone refers them to us — relatives, friends, rabbanim, kollelim, shuls, schools, Chai Lifeline. We ask for two rabbinical references from everyone who applies so we can vet the families. Everything is 100 percent confidential — no one knows who referred whom, no one knows the donors, and the donors don’t know the families. Although we mostly help families, we’re now sending an older single woman who suffers from severe mental health issues. People like this can suffer alone, or with little support, and this woman has never been treated to anything — an “invisible” member of our community. We’ve booked her into a four-and-a-half-star hotel with a bunch of special activities like a jet boat cruise around Niagara Falls and a helicopter tour as well. When we told her about the itinerary, she was at a loss for words. All she could say was, “Wow, wow, wow!”
6) What’s your favorite vicarious vacation destination?
In Canada, going to the cottage is part of the culture — Canadians love their cottages! For the first two summers, we booked an entire resort of 12 large cabins for four weeks, and we sent 30 families. Kids were catching frogs in buckets, running around to their hearts’ content, pure bliss. The resort actually used to be a fishing lodge, and our guests told us catching fish and eating them was a great way to totally decompress. This year we switched things up and booked hotel rooms in Niagara Falls. They were nice rooms with a view of the Falls, and we also gave out activity passes for various attractions nearby, like the Hornblower Cruise, Bird Kingdom, Journey Behind the Falls, go-karting, mini golf, SkyWheel, and the Clifton Hill Fun Pass. One family we sent told us that more than the local attractions, they marveled over the joy their kids had riding the hotel elevator up and down and sleeping in a big, comfortable bed.
7) Who funds the vacation gemach?
Baruch Hashem, Toronto is one of the most affluent and generous frum Jewish communities in the world — but that doesn’t mean people just throw money at you! I do a lot of calling, emailing, schmoozing, shvitzing, and davening. I write many letters, I hand-deliver them to houses, I do much of the hishtadlus part to keep the vacation gemach going. Fundraising is the most challenging part for any worthwhile cause, including Recharge.
8) What sh’eilos have you asked?
The hardest is asking my rabbanim who takes priority when deciding which families to send on trips with our limited funds. Obviously, these are incredibly tough decisions, and their guidance is essential. People are donating money — this is tzedakah, and I want to ensure it’s used properly.
9) Who’s on staff?
Me, and baruch Hashem, I’ve been sent so much help. My wife Chava, who’s super organized, is on top of logistics and planning. My friend Mark Halpern, a respected community leader, is the organization’s advisor, providing oversight, fundraising assistance, and more. He and other friends helped me make Recharge a registered not-for-profit organization.
10) What’s the best feedback you ever got?
This testimonial from a struggling cheder rebbi’s wife: “Last night, after we came home, I was putting my kids to sleep, and they told me that this year they don’t have to think about what they’ll tell their teachers and classmates when everyone goes around sharing what they did over Chanukah break. They went to sleep with such big smiles on their faces.” I really appreciated this email, because the Rav Shlomo Zalman story with this message is what motivated me — and here it was playing out exactly as I envisioned.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 924)
Oops! We could not locate your form.