| Sound Bites |

Shifra Mehl of Eim Leah

Illustration by Esti Saposh

Most of my articles lean towards the goofy, scientific, and informative side. Serious? Not my default setting. But for the Three Weeks, a shtickel pivoting was in order.

When I called Shifra Mehl of Eim Leah, I expected to speak to a somber woman whose Tehillim zuggen I would be interrupting. Well, I don’t know if I did indeed interrupt said Psalms, but I do know that this was one of the most enjoyable and inspiring Soundbites I have ever prepared.

Tell us about how Eim Leah came to be.

Eim Leah is named after Leah Eisdorfer, nee Bergman, a”h, who was killed in a tragic car accident seven years ago. Leah lived in Lakewood and was the quintessential friend and mother. Besides being multitalented (she was a singer and a dancer, among other things), she was that neighbor you always saw playing with her kids, helping out a friend, and doing anything she could to make the world a better place.

As soon as my friend Michal Oelbaum heard the terrible news, she called a meeting of Leah’s six closest friends. We knew we had to do something to commemorate Leah. We met the day after the family got up from shivah. A friend of mine, Yehudis Lieberman, and I went for a walk before the meeting to brainstorm, and we knew right away that we wanted to help kimpeturin. I remember that feeling of drowning after I had my second baby in Israel, 14 months after my first. I didn’t want anyone else to experience that helpless feeling. At the meeting, we discussed it, and everyone agreed it would be the best commemoration for Leah.

Don’t all communities rally around the families of newborns?

As a global community, Klal Yisrael is always there for each other, cooking and helping. But from the start, we agreed that we were going to run this organization professionally. Our coordinators (we started with six and have grown to 30!) volunteer their time; we all work in other fields. We provide food, dinners for the entire family and lunches for the mom, babysitting and homework help, cleaning help, and for those who need it, a baby nurse and a layette. The food is made by a caterer who is a professional cook.

We also like to drive home the idea that Eim Leah is devoted to every mom. One doesn’t need to be in extenuating circumstances to ask for help. Even with a healthy, easy birth, there are still the challenges and the adjustment that a newborn brings. We want to normalize self-care for anyone in any circumstance, not just the emergency cases.

How is it run?

From the beginning, we became a 501(c)(3) and hired a top accountant to oversee the books. We also have rabbanim that we ask all of our questions to, including Rav Malkiel Kotler, Rav Moshe Zev Feldman, and the Skverer Dayan.

What does each family receive?

Each applicant receives a one-week package that needs to be applied within four weeks after birth. It includes: a family-friendly supper delivered Monday through Thursday; lunch delivered for the new mom Monday through Thursday; and cleaning help and babysitters to help with bath and bedtime. We send parents of multiples money towards a baby nurse for the week also. Last year we even launched an amazing home-organizing program to help the new mom feel a little b’seder!

Often it’s not about being able to afford the help but about tapping into the services because coordinating everything with a newborn is overwhelming. Many times the families send back donations after the week is over. Just organizing the help for them is the biggest chesed.

Once, when I had a baby myself, one of the other coordinators told me, “Shifra, you know there’s an amazing organization called Eim Leah in the community…” I got the hint.

Who makes up the staff and volunteers?

We have volunteers and admin staff of all ages and stages. The one thing they have in common is their dedication to making the lives of others more comfortable.

One of the coordinators of Eim Leah had a three-week-old baby when the parents of newborn twins called in a panic. They were on their way home from the hospital and needed a crib for the second baby. The coordinator assured them, “I might have one in my attic that I’m not using.”

But when the father of the twins came to get it, they saw that a piece was missing. She felt so bad that he shlepped out that she tiptoed into her own baby’s room where the baby nurse was falling asleep. The coordinator whispered that she needed to transfer the baby to the carriage. The nurse was livid and refused to allow it! In the end, the mom arranged for a new crib to be brought to the parents the next day.

What incidents of siyata d’Shmaya have you seen?

There are too many to recall, but we definitely see how Hashem helps us maintain our budget. For example, one of our biggest donors was having a challenging year financially and was behind on the previous year’s pledge. The new year’s campaign started and we weren’t sure how to approach him to ask what he could provide. So we did what we do best — we davened.

We finally found the courage to ask if he could commit to anything, and he pledged even more than he usually does! Hashem is always telling us to do our part, and He does His.

Eim Leah in 60 seconds

By the numbers: We average about 50 families a week but have serviced as many as 73.

When we started in 2016, we serviced 19 families. The growth has been exponential! In 2017 it was 406; 2018, 659; 2019, 812; 2020, 867; 2021, 1,313; and last year it jumped to 1,773!

Repeat customers: There’s one family that we’ve helped five times in seven years, kein ayin hara!

All in the family: A few times we’ve sent services to a kimpeturin mother of a large family who has actually had her kimpeturin married daughter staying with her!

Keeping with tradition: I love that we keep track of pizza pies.

Thursday is the unspoken pizza night in the frum world. In 2022, we sent out 2,103 pizza pies. Don’t forget the last three!

Fed with love: Gitty Meyer, our caterer, is a cousin of Leah Eisdorfer.

Hi tech: We had an app made to help streamline the process to apply for our services. It makes things run very smoothly.


(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 852)

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