Business and Pleasure

March 2, 2023

Purim, Inc.

The Start-Ups and Staples That Characterize Lakewood’s Purim Scene

Elisheva Braun

Music pulsates through the streets. Costumed kids race around, squealing with delight. Ribboned packages are delivered at doors; generous checks are signed.

There’s a lot of preparation and work invested in the joy-filled Yom Tov. Local industry leaders share what goes on before the big day.

Aron Schlesinger, The Donors Fund

How I got started

Charity giving is a very special deed. Recognizing this, governments across the world offer tax cuts for charitable donations. To claim their reductions, donors must show bank statements and often receipts as well. (I’ve met people who have boxes of receipts stacked in their basements because records have to be saved for seven years!)

I began circulating donation checks 10 years ago to help people give traceable charity. The inspiration came from Europe, where they have been using this system for years. In 2016, I opened the Donors Fund with the already popular donation checks, and we have since become a national hub for charity giving.

The Donors Fund works like a bank. The money you deposit is charity—to be given at your convenience—and it’s automatically tax-deductible.

Evolving industry

Early on, we had to work hard to explain how we are different and why we are necessary. In the past few years, the charity platform industry has erupted. As people begin to take digital charity seriously, the market is filled with an abundance of platforms servicing givers and takers. In fact, approximately half a trillion dollars were given in the US in 2022.

Advice I like to share

The more we give, the more we are chased. It’s easy to get burned-out when we’re overwhelmingly sought after. I try to work through this by reminding myself of the point of it all. Giving is our heartbeat; it’s the most beautiful thing. I try to make the conscious choice to give with a smile. If we’re giving anyway, we may as well enjoy it.

On a more corporate note, I’m passionate about harnessing technology to power the company. It’s something I think everyone should learn more about.

Many business owners are finally understanding that technology is a necessity. At the Donors Fund, it’s been at the center of our business from the beginning.

How I swing Purim

Internally, we double down on our operations for Purim, preparing months in advance for the flood of business. Many people who aren’t year-round clients use our services for Purim, and we think they’d have to be reckless not to.

On Purim, all the struggle of giving is multiplied and bundled into one day. From lost receipts to forgeries and slipups, there is no shortage of mishaps that can happen on a day when we give tens or hundreds of times, and it’s our job to deal with them all.

Perks of the job

The greatest joy of all—and something I try to keep in mind in the busy day-to-day—is that ultimately, we are driving charity. My favorite compliment is when clients tell me they donate more often because of the Donors Fund.

Some of the struggles

I grapple with finding balance in trying to perfect every department at once. We’ve placed tremendous emphasis on software development, but there are many other aspects of the business that need constant improvement as well.

Memorable moment

A Swiss train company once emailed me, “Hello, Aron Levy. We’ve found your bag. Please contact us to claim it.”

I was sure the email was spam, so I ignored it. Later that day, it hit me: maybe I was being contacted because a meshulach had lost his package.

Sure enough, I found the name Aron Levy on the Donors Fund collectors list. It took a while to track him down, but when I finally reached Aron—who was in Paris at the time—he told me that his tefillin had been stolen in Switzerland. “Not only that, but all the money I made while collecting in America the previous week was in that bag,” he said.

When the package was finally returned to Aron, the tefillin were safe inside it. Tucked next to them was all the money he’d collected. A check from the Donors Fund with our email address—the only form of contact information in the bag—sat at the top of the stack.

Rivka Hirschman, Costume Closeouts

How it all started

The Lakewood Cheder used to host seasonal malls as a fundraiser. The school would bring together many different stores, and locals would shop for their Yom Tov needs. One year, the Cheder was selling costumes. I watched as the crowds descended on the costumes; they were grabbed up in no time. That’s how the idea to sell costumes was planted in my head.

Twenty-one years ago, I was ready to give up my day job and start working part-time. I purchased some bargain costumes and advertised that I was selling closeouts of costumes from my home. When the first customer called, asking, “Is this Costume Closeouts?” the store’s name was born.

On opening day, I got home 15 minutes later than I’d advertised I would be opening; I was sure no one would show up. When I arrived, a line of customers awaited me. From then, Costume Closeouts became a full-time and overtime job.

Perks of the job

Everything about Purim is fun. I love buying and designing costumes and then seeing the kids excitedly picking them out.

Some of the stresses

It’s hard to keep organizing the store when after a busy day, it looks like a hurricane hit. I wish we had enough help to handle the messes, but it’s not easy to find seasonal hires.

Evolving industry

When we opened, people were happy to buy packaged costumes. Today, many families prefer to customize their costumes. We accommodate by stocking hats, tutus, vests, and other mix-and-match pieces.

Adina Ribiat, Labelit Labels

How it all started

Years ago, I freelanced as a graphic designer. People were always asking for Purim labels, which, it turned out, I loved making. What began as a few jobs and favors led to a small ad for labels, then mishloach manos packages, and here we are, in our seventh Purim season.

How I swing Purim

Labelit operations are based in my house. Needless to say, very little eating and sleeping take place during the hectic pre-Purim weeks. But creating a system in which clients can customize labels online has been game-changing.

Perks of the job

I love talking to people and hearing their creative ideas.

Some of the stresses

There aren’t enough hours in the day! Purim season itself isn’t so long, and my business takes a ton of manual work. The orders are all custom, so nothing can be prepared in advance. The business takes a lot of manual work, but it’s also lots of fun.

Advice I like to share

Don’t go too crazy with all the choices of labels! They always look great; there’s no need to stress.

Keeping it fresh

Innovation is important. My eyes are always open to new inspiration and ideas.

Above and beyond

A customer once made a typo in her order. She called me in a panic on the night of Ta’anis Esther. We quickly redid her labels and delivered them just in time for Purim.

Malka Ritter, Pretzel Plate

How it all started

I made a lot of platters for friends and family. Eventually, I got enough compliments that I gave in and humored my husband, who wanted me to start selling platters. The rest is history.

My husband and I have gone from making platters in our basement to opening our own factory and recently, to a mostly outsourced process. We’re very involved in everything from design to delivery, but we’re happy that we’re a lot more hands-off than we were in the past.

How I swing Purim

It’s important for us to pack as many packages in advance as we can, a lesson we’ve learned the hard way. A couple of years ago, we ordered boxes from China. The shipment was stopped at the port for weeks, and we got the boxes less than two weeks before Purim. We hired extra workers and spent endless days packing mishloach manos at the warehouse. We were barely home that week. Now, we order everything far in advance to avoid a similar fiasco.

When Purim is over, designing for the next Purim season begins.

Perks of the job

I enjoy providing an affordable product that’s helpful to people. It’s also nice to see my platters on Purim and at simchos.

Some of the stresses

Ordering from China. It’s an unpredictable and nerve-wracking experience.

Glad to give

It’s been a privilege to partner with Tomchei Shabbos and Kupas Yom Tov and contribute to their Purim packages and donor gifts.

Evolving industry

Prices have gone up, of course. Also, people are busier today, and many prefer ordering mishloach manos over making their own. In addition, corporate gifting has become a huge part of giving mishloach manos.

Advice I like to share

When all is said and done, our ready-made packages are only slightly more expensive than the homemade version, and they are delivered to your doorstep, stress free.

Above and beyond

An out-of-towner called us a couple of days before Purim, asking if it was too late to place an order and have it delivered to her city in time for Purim. We were proud to be able to rush the job, find a ride for the packages, and get them to her on Purim morning.

We make sure to have extra boxes on Purim for last-minute emergencies. We always get phone calls from grateful people.

Ari Lockspeiser, The Cellar

How it all started

We wanted to open a store where we would want to shop, a store that is welcoming and warm with a knowledgeable staff that can help any level of wine enthusiast in a pleasant and respectful way. We also wanted to have the ability to showcase some amazing exclusive wines and other products that we have had the honor to produce. Two years ago, we had a soft opening around Purim time.

Perks of the job

We love interacting with all the people who come into the store, and we are thrilled when we find the perfect bottle for them.

Some of the struggles

It’s a challenge to deliver the best experience for our customers at a price that makes them happy.

Evolving industry

Today, there are so many choices in all areas of wine and spirits, which can be overwhelming. We believe we have chosen the winners from each category so as not to have the customer feel overwhelmed.

How we swing Purim

Keeping up with in-store customer service, restocking, and putting together countless mishloach manos packages takes a lot of hard work!

Purim is a wonderful time when we get to help people with different needs. We always have extra staff and products on hand around Purim time to meet the demand of the customers. Pressure is a privilege, and we handle it with respect and attention toward our customers.

Keeping it fresh

We don’t stop thinking about this on a daily basis. Each year, we put a major emphasis on finding new excellent products that will excite all different types of customers. We choose exclusive barrels from a range of distilleries, and we produce new and exciting wines in Israel, Italy, France, Spain, and California exclusively for our customers.

Memorable moment

One brand-new father walked into the store an hour before Shabbos asking for help with wine, spirits, and beer for a shalom zachar.

The truth is, our approach is to look at every order as special and memorable. For the customer, this could be the only order they are placing, and we want them to feel that their order is most important to us—even if it means engraving a bottle of Concord Kal.

Advice I like to share

Wines age more that we think. I always recommend purchasing a case of a wine you like and opening one bottle each year to see how the wine is developing and aging.

Yoselovsky family, Purim costume gemach

How it all started

Over the years, as our children outgrew their old costumes and needed new ones, our collection kept growing. We decided to open a costume gemach. The demand was huge, and we began shopping end-of-season costume sales and accepting donated costumes to add to our stock.

Today, the gemach features over 1,200 costumes. We hang over 60 storage buckets’ worth of costumes and display them in separate sections: boys, girls, babies, themes, and bachurim.

Family project

Before Purim, we move the table and chairs out of our dining room and set up the costumes at the beginning of each week. On Friday, we roll away the racks and get the room ready for Shabbos.

It’s our greatest joy to help people find costumes to enhance their Purim while saving money.

Memorable moments

Once, a woman who lives in the Lakewood Courtyard took hats to give to her friends. “I want everyone to be happy on Purim,” she said.

Another time, someone found money in his costume’s pocket. We were able to track down the bachur who wore it the previous Purim and return what he had collected.

Happy helpers

Meir Berger and Meir Yoselovsky (pictured) enable the gemach to run smoothly. Meir and Meir help take the costumes out of storage, assemble the clothing racks, display the costumes, assist people in choosing costumes and accessories, and give out use and return instructions.

Please feel free to come choose a costume at the gemach at 422 Third Street. Hours are 5:30–7 p.m. daily. The gemach can be reached at 732-901-1945.