by Elijah Wiseman
As businesses were shut down and toilet paper was picked clean off supermarket shelves, several students decided to step in to help relieve the health crisis in our country. TLS students sewed masks, donated meals to hospitals and 3D-printed over 13,000 ear savers for health professionals in 12 states.
“My dad asked me to make a mask for one of his colleagues,” sophomore Joy Amidror said. “She was a nurse who worked with kids, so the regular blue [mask] was boring. She wanted something more colorful and pretty to look at.”
After going through her fabrics, Amidror found a cheerful flower pattern and sewed a homemade mask for her father’s co-worker.
“She really liked it, so her colleague asked her to ask my dad to ask me to make more, so that’s pretty much what caused me to make more masks,” Amidror said.
She made pockets in each mask so that additional filters could be placed inside of them. The masks were washable, adjustable and extremely successful.
Several weeks after TLS went remote last March, junior Alex Gitnik heard about a new concept: 3D-printable “ear savers” for masks. These small, adjustable straps took pressure off of the user’s ears from the mask’s straps. Gitnik made a few dozen by himself at home and delivered them to family members in the healthcare field.
“Then we started thinking: if these things are working, why don’t we see if we can print and donate more?” Gitnik said.
Gitnik approached other establishments with the goal of helping them, and when the requests began piling up, he had trouble keeping up with demand.
“I was printing on my personal printer, two every half hour,” Gitnik said. “In between online classes, I’d take them off the printer and start up a new print.”
Gitnik contacted Director of Engineering and Design Dr. Daniel Aviv, who helped him borrow TLS’s 3D printers so that he could produce higher quantities. TLS also helped pay for the cost of plastic for the purpose of printing, which was around $0.11 per ear saver and amounted to approximately $1,000 for the whole project including shipping.
“I started in my living room, and it was like the beginning of a mini-factory where we were just churning out ear savers practically all day and night,” Gitnik said. “We kept getting requests: some for 10, some for 50 and some for 100.”
He also asked junior Spencer Dittelman and Samara Tabankin (Class of 2020) to help print some ear savers themselves.
Aviv helped Gitnik reach out to Maayan Keren, Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Director of North American Communities, who set up a link on TOM’s website for businesses to request ear savers.
By the time they finished the project, Gitnik, Dittelman and Tabankin had shipped ear savers from California to Florida. They had donated to ambulance corps, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, emergency rooms, fire departments, sheriff’s departments and retirement homes.
In addition, Gitnik got in touch with a representative from Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in the state, and began donating there as well. Northwell received over 6,000 ear savers printed by Leffell students.
When Leah Feilbogen (Class of 2020) was deciding on a topic for her Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE) project last spring, she initially expected that she would learn how to cook, but realized that instead, she could help healthcare workers and restaurants in financial trouble.
“It started one night at family dinner,” Leah Feilbogen said. “We realized that restaurants were really struggling.”
Leah and her sister Talia (Class of 2017) began raising money through a GoFundMe webpage to buy meals for restaurants to donate to local hospitals.
“We tried to only use local restaurants because that way we were helping the restaurants stay in business and also helping frontline workers,” Leah Feilbogen said.
Soon, the Feilbogen sisters got in touch with FrontLine Appreciation Group, an organization that supports local restaurants while also feeding healthcare workers.
To raise money, Leah and Talia Feilbogen reached out to family members and friends, as well as some members of the Leffell community through social media.
“It was very easy for kids our age to also help out,” Leah Feilbogen said. “We raised hundreds of dollars just through Venmo and Instagram. We [messaged] all these famous people, and someone from “The Bachelor” posted for us. Mariano Rivera reposted one of our posts just to try and get the word out there.”
The pair also set up donation bingo boards on their projects’s Instagram account, crossing out a square whenever a meal was donated.
“I truly think that the fact that we have a service requirement of 40 hours per year makes volunteering feel like something that you’re just supposed to do,” Leah Feilbogen said.
Leah and fellow alumnus Eitan Abecassis (Class of 2017) are now running Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) at the University of Michigan.
Director of Student Life Josh Ull said that hearing about these projects was certainly heartwarming.
“In many ways, this is ultimately exactly what we want chesed and community service to be in this school: where students can identify a need in the world and act on it,” Ull said. “If our school can help support you with resources, professionals and other help, we’re here for that, and this is a great space to be that incubator. Ultimately, though, we want students to say ‘I’m passionate about x, y and z, and I’m going to do something about it.’
“Regarding tzedakah, many of us are accustomed to donating to other Jewish institutions, which is great. But I think these [projects] are a model of how tikkun olam isn’t just about helping the Jewish community.
It’s about reaching beyond our community and helping others, and I think [these students] really showed that.”