How I help families in need to get a well-deserved break

Change the world, vacation after vacation.

“What a terrible idea! Who is funding this? “

This was the response I originally received for my free vacation idea. This project, which is now ending its second year, actually has the potential to put the world right.

Humble beginnings

I eagerly devoured the biography of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, in blessed memories, the founder of Aish HaTorah. I was eager to learn the secrets of its success. After all, as an alumnus of his college and someone who embraced his visions, I felt connected to him.

Although we never met, I watched his videos and made my decision to give up a successful sales career to go to his yeshiva in Jerusalem. After reading the book three times, I was passionately determined to do something concrete to make a difference. But what could I do? I wasn’t rich, I wasn’t a CEO, and I didn’t have a PhD. But these terms did not characterize Rabbi Weinberg either. I cared. I was passionate. I was impressed with Rabbi Weinberg’s concept of taking responsibility for the restoration of the world. It is a value that my wife and I instill in our children.

I had to take the first step and make an effort.

Charlie Harary said that most people wait for the “ability” before taking responsibility. The Jewish approach is that you take responsibility first and then God gives you the ability.

I got the idea for Free Vacation when a friend told me about his wonderful cottage. I was very jealous. This was the beginning of Covid and we were all in lockdown. How many of us could afford to get out of our homes? How many families were stuck in the city? How many people have lost their jobs and struggled with mental health problems? How many couples felt tense and had marital problems or worse?

My wife and I realized how much people who were going through exceptionally difficult circumstances could use a break. We wanted to help those who were often forgotten or left behind. We would send families who couldn’t afford to go to a small resort in the country just a short drive away for a 4 day vacation.

We were inspired in part by a story we read in blessed memories about Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. The rabbi once sent his assistant to deliver envelopes with money and tickets to the zoo to needy families just before the Jewish holidays. “These kids are going to feel terrible when everyone is talking about their vacation. I want them to have something to say, so I’m sending them to the zoo.”

Free vacation is born

So Free Vacation was born with a whopping $ 500. A pipe dream. But the Almighty leads a person on the path that he wants to go. We decided to stick with our idea, even though it was initially unsuccessful. Hearing the troubles and struggles of the people was heartbreaking.

Three weeks later, we received donations between $ 18 and $ 1,000 from the community to help fund our initiative.

I reached out to a dear friend, Mark Halpern, also an Aish alumnus and CEO of, who had an extensive philanthropic background to help make our vision a reality. He helped us achieve charitable status so that we could accept donations, issue tax receipts, and then help us raise even more money than we expected. Soon we will have reached our goal. We partnered with a local resort that adopted our vision and negotiated a discounted rental rate for 17 low-income local families including widows, families with special needs or disabilities, single mothers and people out of work.

While many of us go on vacation to relieve our stresses, make happy memories, bond with our families, and take a mental break, these families don’t.

A very special woman, a middle-aged widow, was stuck at home throughout the pandemic. She had no car and very little family. She felt so alone and life felt very monotonous. We were able to send her to the resort and her entire face changed when she returned. She was more relaxed and felt a new sense of energy.

Another woman we sent was a young widow with 3 children. She barely had the money to pay rent, much less to send her children to camp. She woke up early in the morning with her children until they went to bed late at night, and spent the whole day at home. Life was a challenge. This woman and her children urgently needed a break and a chance to relax. Spending time at the lake and breathing in the fresh country air – that was exactly what they needed.

We have implemented a system where people can nominate themselves or someone else for a free vacation. We would look at their situation and determine the needs. If they met our criteria, we called them with the big news – they were going to a local resort for a couple of nights – free! People loved it – they felt like they had won the lottery!

Incredible feedback

Here is some of the feedback we’ve received from attendees who attended this year:

“This was the first vacation our family took over a year. It’s been a stressful year with school closings, lower finances, and isolation. And the list goes on. This year we needed vacation more than ever, and you put that into practice for us. My husband commented more than once upon our return that he felt more physically relaxed and how much calmer and more relaxed I was! ! It was a really nice vacation for our family. ”The customer review has been automatically translated from German.

“Words cannot express our family’s gratitude and appreciation for the week we spent in the cottage. It was so nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature. My children enjoyed swimming, hiking and the many games of hide and seek that kept them busy for hours. The cabin itself was wonderful. It was very clean and was a perfect fit for our family. Most importantly, our time in the cottage gave us the opportunity to have a good time with the family. Whether playing a board game, swimming in the water together or having dinner together, we left this week with a cottage feeling with such an overwhelming feeling of togetherness and love. “

“It was a difficult year financially because my husband was unemployed. Without this wonderful opportunity, we would not have been on a family vacation. Now my children can proudly tell their friends that they also stayed in a cottage that they once only dreamed of longingly. Even though it’s been over a week since we returned to town, my kids are still talking about it and asking to come back next year! You gave us a wonderful time with the family in beautiful surroundings and we will keep the memories forever. “

With Year 2 ending and 17 more families later, I now have a bigger vision. My dream is to make Free Vacation a full-time global online business for summer and holiday vacations. I would like to work with personal support groups, mental health professionals and other organizations (single parents, widows, disabled people, couples with infertility) and fund their seminars and short breaks. Free Vacation would take care of all the logistics and bookings. Every time someone goes on vacation, they donate to Free Vacation to give vacation to a person in need. We’re getting vacation, these people don’t.

If you’re interested in helping me build a revolution, email me at [email protected]

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or mail a check to: c / o The Jerusalem Aish HaTorah Fund PO Box 1259 Lakewood, NJ 08701.

About Ellen Lewandowski

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