Friday, December 20, 2013

What I Learned From Jewish Cleveland Freebay

Just over a year ago, I had an idea.  See, I'm a chronic "thing-thrower-outer" and I'm always organizing and getting rid of stuff.  There's a local "g'mach" (kindness organization) that accepts clothing and furniture for the needy members of our local Jewish community, but they only accepted things in excellent condition, and often when I dropped stuff off, there was a sign that they were not accepting drop-offs as they needed to sort what was already there.
So I turned to the 'net.  I posted a photo on my Facebook page of some shorts that my son had grown out of, added that they were up for grabs, and within a matter of seconds, a local friend gladly claimed them.  WOW!  This was instant. This was powerful.
After a bit of this, I realized that less than half my friends are local, and why did they all need to see my posts that only pertained to local friends?  Plus, Maimonides' hierarchy of giving was on my mind, and I know that one should ideally give family members first, one's local community first, and one's fellow Jew, as we're supposed to look out for each other as family.
Hence, I created "Jewish Cleveland Freebay."  Regular Facebook users know it takes about one minute to set up a Facebook group, and it took just a few more to add my local friends.  They quickly added their friends, and boom!  Jewish Cleveland Freebay was born.  It's been an incredible ride, and so much good has come out of it.  I've also learned a few tough lessons along the way.

Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly:
The Good:
1. Unity
This group has brought people together, both online, and more importantly, IN PERSON, whose paths would never cross.  People have to actually go to people's homes to pick up their goods, much like Craigslist but with a little more security (we hope).  Jewish Cleveland of all random stripes are interacting!  Meeting!  Talking!  Giving!  Sharing!  It's a beautiful thing.
2. Giving Jewish
I've had so many people ask me, before Freebay, "Are there any Jewish families who could use my old dining room table?"  Because otherwise it was going to the Salvation Army or some other wonderful cause - but folks wanted to try and service their own communities where possible.  Of course, I didn't usually know off-hand who needed what, so it often did go to a generic cause.  In this new format, the givers knew that their donations were benefiting the community.
3. Immediacy
Due to the nature of the internet, stuff could be received just when it was needed.  I took out my bin of boots from my attic, and when I was done sorting what my own kids needed, and what I still wanted to save for my kids' future, I posted the rest.  The SAME day I felt like I needed boots, I could post my extras, and others could receive them, so the recipients' needs were met seasonally.  I can't even count how many winter coats people got for free just as the season was starting.  It was a beautiful sight.  I mean, seriously, someone's glasses broke in the middle of the night; she posted her prescription and had a pair loaned to her by morning.
4. Mutual Gratitude
People are so grateful for their free stuff!  And the givers are so grateful for their stuff to be unloaded!  This gratitude jumps right off my smartphone.  It's palpable.  I've had people stop me at community events to thank me for starting Freebay!
5. Sharing
Sometimes you'll see more than one person wanting to claim the same thing.  They'll get in line, or offer to share.  I love that.
The Bad and the Ugly:
Listen.  People are people.  And they're going to take their flaws into any arena they enter.  So you'll see, on Freebay:
1. Envy
People will private message me that others are getting "too much stuff."  Or claiming things too quickly.
2. Thoughtlessness
I was going to call this "greed" but I really don't feel that it is.  You'll see some people claiming multiple things - those that are frequently online and able to.  I don't think they mean to be grabby, but they're possibly not being as thoughtful as possible.
3. True Need
It's been tricky for me to determine if this is a "tzedaka" site or not. It's not need-based - anyone can claim anything.  Besides, who knows who is actually in "need" and who is not??  No one.  I have been asked if it's a tzedaka site over and over again, and while it's not, technically, it's still a mitzvah.  Right?
4. Open/Closed
At first the group was "open" which meant anyone could join and see the posts.  Oh, la, la, that hippie in me.  I had to "close" the group and more carefully monitor who joined when someone was being verbally abused on the site.  Now I'm stuck deciding who gets to join and who doesn't.  Yuck!  That's not what I asked for.  I do my best, and still get private messages questioning my judgment.  I'm doing my best.  Which brings me to the final point:
5. Getting Flak
After turning down someone who doesn't live in Cleveland, I got virtually yelled on online by this woman.  It wasn't so fun.  I don't get paid to run this group.  It's for the benefit of the Jewish community here in Cleveland.  But it just reinforced a core Jewish concept: you can stay in your own little circle of the world, not take any risks, and never get yelled at.  Or you could put yourself out there, be vulnerable, open yourself up to criticism, and accomplish.
I choose the latter.  It's worth it.
Why don't you start a Freebay for your community?


  1. I ❤️ FREEBAY! Many times I have benefitted from this group, both as a giver and a recipient. Thank you for starting this group Ruchi and for putting up with a little backlash. As we've learned, better to be insulted for doing a good deed than a bad one.

  2. I ❤️ FREEBAY! Many times I have benefitted from this group, both as a giver and a recipient. Thank you for starting this group Ruchi and for putting up with a little backlash. As we've learned, better to be insulted for doing a good deed than a bad one.

  3. I love this idea of used stuff getting more directly matched up with people who want precisely that stuff. Everyone wins. When I drop off bags of our old stuff at the thrift store it is a relief for me, but I look at all the piles of stuff they are sorting and it is a little depressing, it all looks like junk and garbage and I can imagine my relatively useable stuff getting lost in that.

    The "clubbiness" of having it be for Jews only is a little weird for me to read about. Do you have O standards about who can join (like what about RJs with non-Jewish moms)? I suppose there is some self-selection going on, like not very Jewish-identified Jews might not ask for an invitation.

    Larger comment, not directly about the Freebay group: I know that communities of all kinds serve their own first but somehow the 'publicness' of Jewish focus makes me uncomfortable. When I was a kid our school rented buses for use on field trips, they had huge words "BUREAU OF JEWISH EDUCATION" on them and as pretty much the only Jewish kid I was embarrassed about that and the other kids wanted to understand why those buses were "Jewish buses" and felt uncomfortable riding on buses that would seem to indicate that they were Jewish. I know there are hospitals with "Jewish" in their names but I guess they take non-Jewish patients and have non-Jewish doctors (would it be illegal not to?).

    I guess I just don't understand it. It's all good and charitable work, but the self-identifiers would seem to evoke a view on others' parts that there is a "we come first" view being expressed.


    1. I think Jewish-sponsored hospitals were originally founded in part to train Jewish doctors, since many other hospitals wouldn't accept them due to antisemitism.

    2. Two things about limiting this to Jewish communities.

      1) It's a way of limiting size of the group, in general. If there are no limits it's just a free version of Craigslist. If the group size is limited, the members (might) feel more of a kinship with the other members, and be more willing to give up their stuff.

      2) For practical purposes, many items are only of use in the Jewish community. Tzitzis. Wig boxes. Plastic tablecloth covers (massively popular in the OJ community). Jewish picture books. Also, children's clothing styles are often radically different in the frum community, even aside from tznius issues. (Little girls' "Shabbos" robes and little boys' sailor suits are not in big demand outside the OJ world). Patent leather Mary Janes. Matching sibling outfits. And so on. I'd say about 50% of what a frum family has to give away is particularly or exclusively used by the frum community. So it makes sense to target a specific audience.

    3. This is illuminating. I hadn't thought of how Os have all kinds of specific sorts of stuff, across the board.

      What is Jewish about Mary Janes?

    4. Maybe Mary Janes is a bad example? Every girl in the O community wears her dress shoes every week of the year. I guess churchgoing families are in the same situation. If your daughter suddenly outgrows her dress shoes, it's not a hypothetical need that can wait until the next family wedding or school concert. You need a new pair pretty much right away.

    5. I accept anyone in the group who is affiliated with the Jewish community. I check out their Facebook page and if they seem Jewish they're in.

      I think a lot of what tesyaa said is true. Except the group isn't predominantly religious. Still, it's "Jewish" in terms of the stuff being very family-centric. Jewish stuff is offered all the time (Hebrew texts, menorahs, etc).

      The Jews-only thing is a reaction to Jews being excluded and ignored (think JCC, Jewish country clubs, and as DG said, hospitals). Here in Cleveland we have a Maltz Museum of Jewish heritage. I'm curious if there is even one non-Jewish donor. Since non-Jews typically don't support Jewish causes, we have to support them aggressively. If we don't take care of each other, who will take care of us? It really is a "family-first" kind of thing.

    6. All really interesting. Indeed I have managed to skip replacing dress shoes for my growth-spurting daughter and it's not hard to do because she doesn't really need them--and in fact she's arguing to me that she 'needs' some and I'm resisting that. It had not occurred to me that Os need a full dressy wardrobe, for weekly wear.

      What's with matching sibling outfits? I am truly curious! My sister and I had these in the 1970s but I didn't know people still did that. I assume it's a practical, rather than theological, issue. Also, on the subject of O wardrobe: do the little boys get any individualized stuff? No t-shirts with trucks on them? Always buttoned shirts? Is there a reason for this? They look formal to me in their everyday wear (or maybe I mostly only see them walking around on Shabbat)?

    7. Some people insist on buttoned or at least collared polo shirts for their boys, and that's usually required by school dress codes. Some people do let their boys wear round-necked t-shirts when school is not in session, and these may have trucks or whatever on them. Toddlers tend to dress more like non-O toddlers, though sometimes more dressily even on weekdays. Some people, especially in the NY area, insist on fancy clothes for their children, e.g. Baby Gucci and other such brands, but there's no religious requirement for this.

      Matching outfits are common for younger kids in the frum world. Girls may have matching green dresses, for example, and boys in the family may have coordinating polo shirts made of the same material. This seems fairly common in the chassidish world. Again, there's no religious requirement, but it's part of presenting oneself nicely to the world. If there's any theological angle, it's that every Jewish child is the son or daughter of the King, and should dress accordingly. (This attitude sort of bothers me. Maybe some people really believe this, but to me, it's just an excuse to be materialistic).

    8. Funny story about linguistic quirks: when my husband was a preteen he went shoe-shopping with friends. He needed dress shoes, but the only term he could think of for them was "Shabbos shoes" (which is what most Orthodox families call them to their kids). He was sort of tripping over his words, unsure of what to say to the salesman. Finally the salesman understood and said "dress shoes"? Relief!

    9. My boys have a dress code for school: they need to wear a shirt with a collar and no shorts. No hooded sweatshirts for Jr High and up. No graphic tees or sports teams, no jeans or track pants. Ironically, when they were in the "more religious" school, there was no such dress code. Perhaps it was less necessary to mandate more formal dress, as it was likely to happen on its own.

      My 7th grade son usually changes when he gets home into a t-shirt. Sometimes he changes into track pants too. My boys don't own jeans, but some Orthodox boys do.

      Re matching outfits. Here in Cleveland, sometimes people will dress two little sisters or two little brothers in matching clothes for Shabbat, holidays, or a special occasion, but kids who dress "matching" more than that usually are advertising that their mother is either from New York or Chassidish. Which is fine, just not as common here.

    10. My boys attend public school for educational reasons, and the rebbe who gives them supplemental Judaic instruction after school was really surprised that their school allows them to wear shorts. It made me realize how easy it is to forget that in the wider world, wearing shorts on a hot day is considered perfectly sensible. (Their school has a dress code too. Shorts have to be a certain length or longer, etc).

    11. In the school my kids used to attend the boys regularly wore shorts till 5th grade.

    12. Do most non-religious Jews put distinctively Jewish stuff on Facebook? And don't most people have their Facebook settings set to let only friends see their stuff? Just curious as to how this works.

    13. There is no "most." Some do and some don't. Most people I know have pretty public profiles on Facebook and you can often tell from their friends, groups, and pages they've "liked" if there's a Jewish affiliation. Not always.

  4. I started to write this comment earlier and I think it got deleted before I finished, not sure:

    At the risk of a thread hijack, or taking things into an unwanted territory, I was wondering how Os feel about Christmas. Is it just a distant hum because they are so much in their own world, or is it something they feel is shoved in their faces, is it something they strive to avoid any contact with, or is it something they can move through without it bothering them much (like streets are decorated and so forth, but it doesn't bother them)?

    I have a feeling R types have more conflicted feelings about Christmas and more complicated interactions with/without/against it, but I don't know.

    1. I can't speak for everyone, but most OJs just ignore Christmas as much as possible. School is generally in session on December 25. Most frum-owned businesses that cater to the frum community are open. It is usually not referred to as Christmas but as "Legal Holiday". In the last few years, the "Legal Holiday" designation has taken over as a description for Thanksgiving and even Memorial Day and Labor Day!

      A woman I was once quite friendly with grew up very Modern Orthodox (her father is a leading and very controversial left-wing O rabbi). However, she told me that when she admired Christmas lights as a small child, her mother strictly told her that there's nothing admirable about them. OTOH, a few years ago a MO mother told me she took her kids to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller center. I almost fell off my chair!

      Another blog (Bad for Shidduchim) recently had a post that touched on office gift exchanges. While the blogowner seemed to think it's harmless enough, a lot of her readers said that it's halachicly forbidden to participate. (But where I work, even one of the more "yeshivish" people took part.)

    2. That's exactly what I was wondering--do Os avoid looking at Christmas lights, or is it ok to just enjoy them, can you sing "Jingle Bells", that sort of thing.

      I think office gift exchanges are a terrible idea anyway. Who needs one more obligation this time of year (if you celebrate Christmas) and who needs more gifty stuff given as part of a stupid "gift exchange" which means it's not even done out of affection?

    3. Most of my friends think the lights are pretty and will, with a smile, guiltily admit to enjoying and humming along to the Christmas songs while shopping.

      It's not that big of a deal, other than the inconveniences of stores being closed, being unable to get doctor's appointments, etc. I give holiday gifts to my cleaning woman, mail carrier, kids' bus drivers, etc. Most of my friends do too.


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