Stuffed toys make aliyah

Gerry and Miriam Engelhart collect stuffed animals to send to troubled Israeli children as part of their ongoing tsedakah project.

Gerry Engelhart may be 52, but he still loves stuffed animals. Especially when they’re for his pet project.

For the past three years, the Beachwood resident has been aggressively rummaging through garage sales and thrift shops looking for adorable stuffed animals in mint condition. His friends, aware of his “doggone” obsession, frequently drop off bags of small, whimsical creatures at his front door.

The jovial owner of Porath Print Source does not horde these faux, furry bundles for himself. Each little critter is earmarked for the arms of traumatized children placed in child protection agencies throughout Jerusalem. These children come to the centers due to emotional, physical or mental abuse they have experienced at home.

Engelhart began his stuffed animal quest after meeting “mitzvah man” Danny Siegel, who spoke in Cleveland a few years ago about the importance of tsedakah.

“My wife Miriam and I asked him to recommend an ongoing tsedakah project in Israel,” says Engelhart, whose three sons have made aliyah. Siegel put him in touch with Arnie Draiman, an Israeli philanthropic consultant.

 “Arnie told me if you want to make troubled, scared children smile, just hand them an adorable, non-threatening stuffed animal,” says Engelhart. Calling his mission “Stuffed Animals Make Aliyah,” Engelhart has sent 2,500 furry friends to Israel.

The printer’s efforts have sparked the attention of his Modern Orthodox community and beyond. “B’nai mitzvah kids from synagogues all over town have made collecting stuffed animals a part of their tsedakah projects,” Engelhart says. Recently, a non-Jewish woman from Akron shipped Engelhart a huge box of Beanie Babies so they would have “a good home.”

“Without Gerry’s efforts, thousands of people, mostly children, would be a little less happy,” wrote Draiman in an email to the CJN. “Response to the stuffed animals is a perfect example of how a ‘small’ mitzvah has an enormous impact.”

Along with donating stuffed animals to social service agencies for traumatized children, Draiman sends the fluffy items to younger siblings of injured soldiers; children living in Sderot, Ashkelon, and Shlomi; the “Littles” in Israel’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program; and hospitalized children.

Engelhart constantly receives calls from friends going to Israel, requesting either a few stuffed animals to tuck into their suitcases or else a duffel bag full of the critters. “I give them Arnie’s number, and he arranges for the stuffed animals to be picked up,” Engelhart says. “We are trying to make troubled kids smile, one small stuffed animal at a time.”

To contact Engelhart, call 216-626-0060.

afine@cjn.org

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