(June 28, 2022 / JNS) Without delving into why it’s happening, the shortage of baby formula in the United States is shocking and troubling on many levels. With few exceptions, I think of America as the land of abundance. During World War II, my grandfather turned to the black market to get bananas because my grandmother needed potassium, but other than artificial shortages of oil (and gas) created by OPEC when I was a child, I am hard-pressed to think of any time in my life when the United States suffered a shortage of anything. The downside of this is that Americans came to believe that everything is so abundant that it is acceptable to waste things precious to others around the world.
Compounding supply chain-induced shortages of such things as car parts, building supplies and cream cheese, I was concerned to hear about a major shortage of baby formula in many states. I don’t know if my grandmother’s need for potassium was life-threatening, but the situation with baby formula today reminded me of my grandfather trafficking in bananas, doing anything necessary to keep her well.
Before my second grandson started eating solid food, he was using a particular formula that was non-dairy, non-soy and not cheap. This was due to allergies and the formula was absolutely necessary for him to thrive. That was stressful enough for my daughter and son-in-law. I cannot imagine being a parent of a baby for whom there is simply no formula available. If it were me, I’d turn to a black market, drive to another state or even fly overseas to get my baby what it needed.
So, since I was planning a trip to the United States from my home in Israel, where store shelves are fully stocked with formula, I decided to lend a hand, or rather a suitcase. Despite not traveling for two years, United Airlines—to its credit—maintained the status that allowed me an extra piece of luggage. I joined social media groups composed of parents who were looking for and sharing tips about where to find formula. I posted that I was willing to bring formula from Israel.
Despite one person cynically responding that it looked like a scam, I received lots of positive comments and personal requests from parents looking for particular kinds of formula. I was concerned about bringing something to someone that wasn’t exactly what they needed, so I chose more traditional, off-the-shelf brands.
Since I run the Genesis 123 Foundation, which builds bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians and Israel, I reached out to a network of both Jewish and Christian groups and friends at my destination and offered to bring as much formula as I could. Yes, it’s a huge blessing to bring formula from Israel. It is literally a fulfillment of Genesis 12:3, which says that Israel will be a blessing to the families of the world. I always had trouble with the word “families” and was inclined to broaden it to “nations.” I don’t know what God had in mind, but this is literally blessing the families.
A few churches responded immediately and said they’d take as much formula as I could bring and give it to families in need. I didn’t distribute these in person, but it warms my heart to know that a number of families have containers of baby formula with Hebrew writing sitting on their kitchen counters.
Since all this happened, I have had the occasion to teach many Christians the Hebrew word chesed—“kindness.” That’s not a word printed on the containers of formula, but it will be infused in every bottle. Personally and on behalf of the Genesis 123 Foundation, there are few things that have excited me more than being able to make a meaningful, tangible difference on a human level and as a blessing from Israel.
But it gets better. Rami Levy, a major Israeli grocery store chain, heard about what I was doing and offered me a discount so it could participate in this chesed. Tawfik, the Palestinian-Arab Muslim manager of my local branch in Hebron, was moved to be able to participate. Then I started asking if people had old suitcases they no longer needed, in which I could pack the formula. Several offers came, thanking me for letting them participate in this chesed.
I certainly never intended to make this a fund-raising project, but Israelis naturally asked how they could donate to the effort. Whether it was the monetary discount, the actual donations or just an old suitcase, I was moved by how Israelis jumped in to participate. I mentioned this to a friend who thought it was such a good idea that he also offered to buy and deliver a whole suitcase full of formula at his first stop at a church I work with.
One of my board members in the United States was so grateful that she made an extra donation, and encouraged me to enable others to donate as well. We discussed the possibility that, if I could find a flight that’s not too expensive, I could make another trip just to deliver formula. Maybe with the donations that I wasn’t planning to ask for, I can take a trip that I wasn’t planning, and we can pay for another special delivery from Israel.
Schlepping along 119 containers of formula had its logistical challenges, and I joke that with six of the cans breaking in transit, I was lucky that customs didn’t ask about the white powder leaking out of the bags.
I pray that by the time I’ll be able to consider another flight, the formula shortage in America will be resolved and parents can rest easy. Until then, who knows, maybe you’ll see me carrying along an extra suitcase of formula to help parents in need sooner rather than later.
Jonathan Feldstein is a former Soviet Jewry activist, born and educated in the United States, who immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is president of the Genesis 123 Foundation, building bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians and Israel, and writes and broadcasts regularly in a variety of Christian media, sharing the experience of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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