Israeli women launch effort to help women businesses harmed by war


Hairstylist and makeup artist Michelle Shtessman woke up one morning and said to herself, “I have to do something for the war effort.”

A native of Canada, she remembers when, during the Second Intifada, Izzy Kaplan – the late owner of the Israel’s Judaica Center, located in midtown Toronto – brought in vendors from all across Israel whose businesses were bleeding. Some were merchants from the lively Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, for example, which had become somewhat of a ghost town during that period. People were mostly staying at home because of the terrorist threat and therefore were shopping less. 

Kaplan rented an empty plaza for a week in the North York neighborhood of the city, and the Israeli vendors were housed in private homes. It was a band-aid solution, but it helped tremendously; the Israeli merchants did very well and were extremely grateful.

Full disclosure: Michelle Shtessman is my daughter, and our family was very involved with the effort. I managed hospitality and transportation, and my husband and older daughter also volunteered their time. So, although Shtessman was just a child at the time, it had an impact on her.

Fast forward to 2023: Shtessman loves fashion and is using her connections to host events in Israel where business owners selling women’s clothing, jewelry, and makeup can offer their merchandise. The vendors offer discounts to mothers whose husbands – IDF reservists – are currently drafted.

THIS SOLDIER, a mother, used an evening off-duty to enjoy the Hashmonaim event earlier this month. (credit: Courtesy Rita Braunstein)

“I was speaking to my friends Emanuel and Julie Recanati, owners of Imaga [a store in the Hadar Mall that sells hairbands, hats, and head scarves for women], and I asked them how they were doing financially these days,” Shtessman told In Jerusalem.

“They told me that business is slow right now because of the war. So I suggested they come to Hashmonaim for a sale in my house. I then asked if they knew of any other businesses that are struggling, and they mentioned their friends who were evacuated from their home in Netivot in the South. They own a boutique with clothing and mitpachot [hair scarves] from well-known Israeli designers in the dati [religious] community. The family was temporarily moved to a hotel in central Jerusalem, and, of course, the store was closed.

“As you can imagine, the idea for a bigger sale grew,” Shtessman said. “Shaarei Yedidya Synagogue in Hashmonaim, where I live, graciously allowed us to use their hall so that we could include a few more businesses.” 

Emanuel Recanati told In Jerusalem, “This war situation means that we can’t sell a lot, and we can’t work normally. Our website works, but the store isn’t working. What we did in Hashmonaim was amazing. It was extra money, and we need it now. It was a big help – to us and to other businesses that are suffering. We have a small family business. I’m in the IDF Reserves, so I was called up, and I’m the manager, so we are lacking two months of management.”

Helping Israeli businesses harmed by the war

A clothing store owner from the South, who prefers to remain anonymous, saw the advertisement about the event and reached out to Shtessman, asking to participate. Of course, the answer was yes.

Not all vendors are located in the border areas, but they are nevertheless feeling the crunch. 

“As a result of the war, small businesses that are a tourist-based industry are suffering economically because hotels and cruises are closed or catering to the needs of evacuees,” said Marci Rapp, owner of MarSea Modest Swim and Casualwear, based in the Kochav Ya’acov community in Judea and Samaria. 

“We started off donating swimwear to women and girls who were evacuated to hotels in Netanya and Jerusalem, and we need to recoup over NIS 9,000,” she said.

The event, held on November 5, was a huge success. The hall was packed. 

HOURS AFTER Hamas brutally attacked Israel on October 7, Shtessman’s husband, Shmuel, was called up for army service but 10 days later, he was allowed to return home. When she planned the original event, he was already back; but remembering how difficult it was to take care of the family on her own, she wanted the event to also be fun and a reprieve for mothers who are, for now, having to cope without their partner’s help.

Little did she know that Shmuel would be called up again. However, she decided to continue hosting these events in other cities, despite her own challenging situation. She had planned one for Beit Shemesh last Sunday, but it was canceled due to the death of Binyamin Meir Airley, a 21-year-old soldier from Beit Shemesh, killed in combat in Gaza. Thousands in the community attended the funeral. 

The sale was rescheduled for next week.

Devora Golan, a personal stylist, is helping with the Beit Shemesh event. 

“I help women find their confidence through clothing and style,” Golan said. “That’s my passion – to show every woman that she is beautiful, and I really believe that. I don’t believe women have to change to look and feel beautiful, and I try to help them achieve that.

“For the coming event, I have been helping to get vendors and advising because I have done a few events like this myself. I organized a ‘modest fashion’ night a few years ago, where I put together a fashion show/sale, as well as a couple of other smaller events. I’ll be there that night setting up and helping to run things.”

There will also be clothing available for women who are not looking for particularly modest styles. According to Golan, there will be what she describes as “open modest” choices; for example, dresses that don’t necessarily meet halachic standards, such as shorter sleeves.

“I actually love it that people can consider themselves modest even if they don’t dress in the haredi way,” she said. For anyone who “just wants to dress up or get a nice outfit,” there will be plenty to choose from, she stressed, noting that there will also be jewelry and makeup for sale. 

The Beit Shemesh event is scheduled for Sunday, November 26, from 7-10 p.m., at the Ohel Yonah Menachem Synagogue, 17 Shivtei Israel Street. Another evening is being planned in Efrat for Thursday, November 30.

Shtessman plans to organize similar events in different cities. ❖

For future events, follow her on Facebook (Michelle Shtessman) and on Instagram @michellestess. Golan can be reached on Instagram @modstylista.