The existence of countless organizations and individuals found in every Jewish community is part and parcel of the nature of Judaism. The practice of providing free services is called “Gemach”, which is an acronym for “gemilut chasadim” (act of loving-kindness).
Doing acts of loving-kindness for other people is a mainstay trait of any Jewish community and is inherent in the nature of the Jewish People. Our Talmudic Sages (Yevamot 79) teach that it is one of the three signs that are characteristic of the Jewish People. The Maharal of Prague explains that we “inherited” this particular trait as part of our spiritual DNA from Abraham, our forefather. (Gen. 18:19)
Our Sages also teach, “Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things — Torah, the service of God, and deeds of kindness.” (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
How does the “gemach system” work?
Generally, individuals or families will start and manage on a volunteer basis (usually in the memory and merit of some departed loved one) a gemach that fulfills any particular need or service that a person may encounter from birth to death, whether for religious or mundane purposes. Sometimes, these “individual” gemachs become larger non-profit organizations, due to expansion and increased need for the service they provide. One example of this is “Yad Sarah”, which provides medical services and equipment on a wide scale, although it started off as an individual gemach for vaporizers in a private apartment in Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most well-known type of gemach is a “free loan society”, by which a person can obtain an interest-free loan. But that’s the tip of the iceberg.
There are gemachim that lend (free of charge) items related to birth: baby supplies, carriages, playpens, car seats, etc. Others provide anything that might be needed in the house of mourning: special chairs, candles, Torah scrolls, extra prayer books, etc. The same applies for needs, objects or foods related to Shabbat and holidays; joyous occasions such as a brit, bar mitzvah, engagement or wedding; and loaning out religious objects such as tefillin, mezuzot, Torah books and more.
Other gemachim provide medical supplies: medicines, humidifiers, canes, casts, wheelchairs, and a long list of other items; or services such as first aid, bandaging, bone-setting, blood tests, and transportation for health care and more. Others provide virtually every imaginable need related to postal, banking, courier, cooking, housecleaning and babysitting services (to mention just a few).
In short, the long list of free services provided by the gemach system is so vast that the community directory which lists them all is like a phone book on its own.
May we suggest that our readers consider becoming partners in these wonderful services to the public by opening a gemach of their own or by supporting a gemach in Israel or within their own community.