Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sandra Orman was already my friend, someone in the neighborhood who volunteered for things, and did my makeup in local summer stock productions, when I noticed that she had begun advertising chicken soup in our local Efrat email list. The Maryland native wasn’t selling the soup—she was offering it to anyone who needed it for any reason. Sick, lonely, whatever. You didn’t have to explain. If you wanted it, the soup was there.

As this unique free loan initiative took off, Sandra went a bit further and suggested that people contribute to her stores of chicken soup, as the need was greater than even she had suspected. And of course, as in any other nice Jewish community in Israel, the women responded, and sent over containers of chicken soup for Sandra’s freezer. When anyone—including this author—had surgery or illness, there Sandra was, offering help, and of course, some soup.

She didn’t push it on you but offered it with kindness. Accept it or not, that was up to you. But the offer of soup was there.

Being shy about accepting help, I always thanked Sandra and declined, and she was always graceful, and let me know that if I needed anything (even NOT soup), to please let her know. Until one day it happened: I actually needed the soup. Within 15 minutes, Sandra was at my doorstep with a container of chicken soup in hand. (Truth be told, she lives only a block away, but still, not only providing chicken soup, but bringing it door-to-door! It blew me away that she did that. Sandra is just nice.)

It occurred to me that Sandra is doing something worthy of emulation, something revolutionary, even. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?? Why doesn’t every community have a chicken soup gemach [free loan society, V.E.]?

For all I know, there are other such loan funds, offering chicken soup in other Jewish towns and communities. But the idea was, for me, a unique concept, and I itched to write about it. Maybe more women would be persuaded to copy Sandra Orman’s brand of chicken soup kindness? And how best to make that happen? With an interview of course! (After all, that’s why I have this handy-dandy weekly writing space, nu?)

As it turned out, Sandra was happy to share about her life and her mission to provide chicken soup to all in need of a little Jewish penicillin. So get ready to read about a very special lady who is saving lives in a very humble way, armed only with chicken soup and love: 

Varda Epstein: Tell us a bit about your family.

Sandra Orman: I made aliyah in 2009 with 3 teenagers and my husband. We came directly from Baltimore to our apartment in Efrat, where we still live, today.

Sandra and Baruch Orman

Varda Epstein: How long have you been in Israel? What made you want to make aliyah?

Sandra Orman: My husband is a toshav chozer [return resident, V.E.]. He made aliyah with his first wife to a garin [core settlement group, V.E.] at Moshav Katif in Gush Katif with about 15-20 other couples. He has always been a Zionist (he says he’s just a Jew) and I followed his dream, which became my dream, as well. 

Sandra and Baruch, happy to be home in Israel.

Varda Epstein: How did your family feel about the move?

Sandra Orman: My boys came to Israel the year before we arrived with our daughter. One son, Moshe, went to a mechina (pre-military leadership academy) called LYA in the Golan Heights at Avnei Eitan and Noam moved in with our good friends/family, the Eastmans, and entered the first year of high school at YTA; he was in the first graduating class. Shayna was 13 and she entered an Israeli school in Efrat. She was open to the adventure, but, there were many challenges for her.

We also have two kids (and 8 grandchildren) in the States. They were already married with kids when we made aliyah. One was born here and the other was a baby when Baruch and his ex-wife made aliyah, so they all understand why we are here.

Varda Epstein: How did you come up with the idea to create a chicken soup gemach?

Sandra Orman: I wanted to open a soup kitchen and feed hungry people, but, I saw that Efrat already had its act together. I made a couple pots of soup for a couple of my friends who were sick. One of my friends said I saved her life and I thought, wow, that was an easy act to save someone’s life. I realized then that I would start a chicken soup gemach and save more lives. 😂😂

Varda Epstein: How many women take part in contributing soup?

Sandra Orman: I have about 5-8 participants, with 4 of them steady participants. Sometimes the soup needs a ride somewhere, sometimes I need a full pot because of the situation. I only service Efrat.

Varda Epstein: Do you ever have storage issues? Any plans to invest in a larger freezer?

Sandra Orman: I have a couple of containers in a friend’s freezer, one person makes it fresh and I squeeze a container or two in my freezer. Sometimes I ask other participants to put soup in their freezers.

Varda Epstein: What is it about chicken soup, anyway?

Sandra Orman: Everyone knows chicken soup is Jewish penicillin. It soothes the soul and it has medicinal qualities to it, as well. 

Varda Epstein: Do you have any men contributing soup to the gemach? Can you see that happening in the future?

Sandra Orman: I work with only women, but there is one husband who makes soup for his family and the leftovers make their way to the gemach. Men are welcome to contribute.

Varda Epstein: Can you tell us about some of the feedback you’ve received from grateful recipients of chicken soup?

Sandra Orman: I have had the privilege to serve many people over the years in many different situations. One person called me up and told me they weren’t sick, but their family was in a bad situation. When I went there I saw with my own eyes what they were talking about.

A couple of people were having a health situation where they had to eat just broth day after day so we helped them out with their daily supply for a short time before her surgery. One person needed food in general because of a mix-up in cash flow so that was a true tzedaka [charity, V.E.] situation which involved more than just soup for a few meals. There have been several single or widowed men or women. Most people are sick and just need a quick fix until they can get their own pot of soup made.

I usually give out a 2-liter container per customer, sometimes more, depending on their situation. Everyone is grateful and I am grateful to be able to participate in their healing. Everyone deserves a hot bowl of soup when they need it. I even had to use it once when I was sick and out of my personal stash of soup. I also encourage people to give us their names so we can daven [pray, Yiddish, V.E.] for their recovery; some do and some don’t. 

Varda Epstein: What’s next for Sandra Orman? Do you plan to expand the chicken soup gemach, or move on to something else?

Sandra Orman: I will continue to maintain my small soup gemach and I encourage others in other yishuvim [settlements, V.E.] to open their own soup gemachim. It takes some effort and coordinating, but it is really worth it. After all, you can save a life. 😘


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