The Best Defense

February 22, 2024

How one housewife with a $0 budget and no connections is bringing protection to Klal Yisrael

Elisheva Braun

For as long as she’d been reading chapter books, Bracha has devoured every Holocaust book she could get her hands on.

When October 7 happened, Bracha Egert, now a wife and mother, felt like the atrocities she’d read about all those years were coming to horrifying fruition. The situation in Eretz Yisrael struck a deep chord within her.

“I felt like the world was coming to an end,” she says. “When I heard the initial estimates—that 1,100 people had been killed—I felt like the world was falling apart. I knew I had to do something. Following the guidance we’d gotten, I split up sefer Tehillim among my family.”

That week, Bracha woke up with a brilliantly basic idea—to encourage kids to learn or say Tehillim, incentivizing them with soda cans.

“I posted signs in my neighborhood, informing kids that for every 20 minutes of learning or Tehillim that they did, they would get a soda can. I also offered bigger prizes for longer stretches of time. I called up a neighbor, and together, we came up with names of women in various Lakewood neighborhoods who could run the program for their area.”

The inspiration spread quickly.

In homes all across the city, friends sit on couches and chairs and benches, saying Tehillim. Boys who would normally be running wild are swaying over a sefer, diligently doing their duty for Klal Yisrael. A friend whose very active son couldn’t be compelled to focus on any one activity for more than two consecutive minutes told Bracha her son learns for hours to earn his prizes.

With over 80 groups in Lakewood, dozens out of town and internationally, and spinoffs popping up in Midwood, Passaic, and all over the place, the initiative was making a world-shaking impact.

A state of emergency

When asked how she juggles Make a Difference work with a busy mother’s life, Bracha is frank and unflinching.

“Things are definitely hectic. There are times, for example, when my kids don’t do their homework and they get a question mark on their homework sheets. Some balls do have to be dropped.

“Imagine marrying off a child,” Bracha offers. “The appointments and invitation list and furnishing and filling the house become the priority. Many other responsibilities get pushed to the side. Imagine if chas v’shalom a child was dangerously sick. There’s a certain flexibility you need to have, understanding that your house won’t be perfect during that time. I feel like Klal Yisrael is in a state of emergency right now, and that our zechusim are, in fact, lifesaving. And if the laundry doesn’t get put away or the study is so packed with prizes that you can’t walk in, I’m willing to pay that price.”

On the other hand, “There are days that I’m on top of my game and Hashem gives me the siyata d’Shmaya to get everything done faster than ever. When my watch broke, I didn’t know how I would find the time to fix it. My neighbor offered to run errands for the program. As I was loading the sodas into my neighbor’s car, she told me that she had to first run an errand. ‘Where are you going?’ I asked her. My jaw dropped when she answered, ‘To fix a watch.’ She was happy to take mine, too.”

The Chinese auction

As the excitement over the groups started to fade, Bracha knew she needed a fresh idea.

“I thought of holding a Chinese auction and offering big, exciting prizes for learning, davening, and kabbalos. I called business after business, and they kept donating more and more. The auction got bigger and bigger and bigger. We created a catalogue as well as a hotline with chizuk, kabbalah ideas, and resources.”

Why incentivize these holy pursuits?

“When one Make a Difference representative stopped offering rewards—setting up a lishmah program instead—zechusim traffic quickly stopped. People may think it’s silly to incentivize zechusim,but as one rebbetzin told me, “Everyone needs to be motivated, even adults. We’re all so busy and distracted. It’s important to have a reminder and a motivator to say some extra Tehillim.”

Before going public, I was sure to ask my husband’s rosh yeshivah whether it’s appropriate to offer prizes for ruchinyus. He didn’t see anything wrong with it and offered his full support.

Built on air

The Make a Difference initiative is a zero-budget project. All of it, the hordes of excited kids, the thousands of prizes and treats, the innumerable zechusim racked up with fervor, it’s all built on air.

A program of this scale costs money. Lots of it. Who foots the bill?

“I just jumped in. If I would’ve waited for everything to make perfect sense on paper, nothing would have gotten off the ground. When you open yourself up to Hashem, He sends His shefa,” says Bracha.

Some reps spent their own money on the treats. Some service providers volunteered. All prizes in the Chinese auction were donated by stores and businesses. In one neighborhood, the families were all eager to chip in. Others rely on donations.

“When someone donates $5, that’s 12 soda cans—250 minutes of learning or saying Tehillim. Isn’t that the greatest deal?”

Still, there’s plenty of fundraising and sponsorship-seeking that falls on Bracha’s shoulders.

“It’s embarrassing, going into stores and asking for donations,” she shares. “I don’t like asking people for money; it’s very not like me. But we need to pay for the printing and delivery of our 17,000 auction booklets.”

One story gave her chizuk.

A man who collected money for a yeshivah once told Rav Pam, “It’s such a bushah, collecting money. I find it so embarrassing.”

Rav Pam responded, “You’re choosing your bushah; you’re choosing that your embarrassment will come through a mitzvah.

“On Rosh Hashana,” Rav Pam explained, “Hashem decrees how much embarrassment a person will endure that year. A person can get that bushah through a mitzvah, thereby avoiding bushah from another source.”

Bracha applied the vort not only to her sense of shame but to everything—her fast-paced schedule, the hard work she was exerting, the rejections she received.

For example, “Hashem decides how busy I’ll be. I can choose to be busy helping Klal Yisrael, and He’ll make other tasks fall into place more quickly and smoothly. You don’t lose out when doing for Hashem.”

From home

Bracha doesn’t take credit for her current bout of activism.

“It’s in my bones,” she tells me. “My father, Rabbi Avi Geffner, is the executive director of Yeshiva Derech Chaim, an innovator of Chinese auctions for decades. I remember my father coming home crazy late at night because he was putting the auction together, and my mother spending hours and hours making fundraising phone calls.”

Bracha’s parents had another pet project: the 24-hour Tehillim Hotline.

“This was before the days when splitting up and finishing sefer Tehillim was common.People would call in to take perakim and to give in Tehillim names. We had a phone line at home for the hotline, which my mother would answer at all times of day and night.We heard so many miracle stories about times when Tehillim saved people.”

On a few occasions, non-frum people who had somehow found out about the hotline would call to share their stories. “We saw miracles after we started gave a name for Tehillim. We’re believers now,” they said.

Her husband supports her all the way. “His grandmother, Pearl Egert, started and ran a chessed organization that helped the Boro Park community for a decade. My mother-in-law was the first dispatcher for Hatzalah.”

Sensitivity to the needs of the klal and the power of the individual’s Torah and tefillah are values Bracha ingested in her parents’ home. With awareness and focus and our own deep-rooted bitachon, we can hand these ideas over to our own next generations.


Anxiety or empowerment?

One potential hostess declined. “My daughter is very anxious about the war. I don’t want to do anything that will make her think about it,” she told Bracha.

“It’s so important to help your kids be tuned into what Klal Yisrael is going through,” Bracha asserts. “In addition to learning the critical middah of nesia b’ol, kids feel empowered when they feel that they can make an impact. They’re calm knowing that their zechusim are truly making a difference.”


It takes a type

While on the hunt for neighborhood representatives, Bracha was told by numerous people, “I’m sorry. It’s not my type.”

“Can you tell me who is the type?” she would invariably ask.

Usually, the women would give the number of the busiest person in their community, the one who takes care of all the projects and programs.

“We label ourselves as ‘not the type,’ when really, if we would only step out of our comfort zones, we would be blown away by what we can pull off,” says Bracha.

“I think my former teachers and principals would fall off their chairs if they knew what I’m doing today,” she adds.

To receive a copy of the brochure, email

The hotline number is 720-708-1438.

To get the song and chart for the Disconnect to Reconnect, email


At Make a Difference, we strive to accumulate zechusim for Acheinu Bnei Yisrael through inspiration and incentives.

Please call the Make a Difference hotline at 720-708-1438 to hear inspiration and information about the program.

To receive an auction booklet, please email, and you’ll receive an automated response with our auction booklet and theme song.