Lakewood: Dr. Shanik’s Ahavas Tzedakah Reception Tonight


dr-shanikLakewood, NJ –¬†Ahavas Tzedakah had its very humble beginnings over 30 years ago.

Dr. and Mrs. Reuven Shanik had recently settled in Lakewood, and they were enamored by the warmth and Torah spirit that the charming community personified. Mrs. Shanik was always looking for ways to expand her chessed portfolio, and Hashgachah would soon give her an opportunity she had never imagined.

It started when Mrs. Shanik received a phone call from a woman who asked her if she could please get involved in raising funds for a needy family she knew.

“But I just had a baby two weeks ago!” Mrs. Shanik protested.

The woman pleaded until Mrs. Shanik simply could not refuse her, and she helped raise the needed money.

Chazal teach us that “mitzvah goreres mitzvah. Several weeks later, a local Lakewood “behind-the-scenes” baal chessed called Mrs. Shanik to help collect money for a Lakewood family that was struggling. This time, Mrs. Shanik agreed almost immediately. Not long after, she received yet another phone call from a third individual with a similar request and again she readily complied.

By now, Mrs. Shanik had become imbued with a sense of mission, as she noticed that a number of families in the community seemed to be struggling with financial difficulties. She was determined to do something about it and decided to discuss the matter with her husband.

From his perspective as a pediatrician coming into contact with so many families, Dr. Shanik was also able to discern the telltale signs of poverty – not necessarily apparent to others – that were taking a toll on many Lakewood families. He knew that such monetary problems often resulted in tension and strife at home.

In 1981, Dr. and Mrs. Shanik founded Ahavas Tzedakah as an almost spontaneous expression of their true care and concern for others. Although they are very passionate about Ahavas Tzedakah and its mission, Dr. and Mrs. Shanik are also very reluctant to discuss their own good deeds, preferring to focus on Lakewood.

“My wife and I have always considered it a tremendous privilege to live in our beautiful community,” says Dr. Shanik. “We just felt it was only right to somehow give back to the community, especially by helping those people who make it so special.”

Initially, the organization maintained a low profile, as the Shaniks solicited funds from a small circle of friends and acquaintances. Ahavas Tzedakah provided assistance to some 35 needy families, mostly during the Yom Tov seasons.


As time went by and the community grew exponentially, the number of families requiring assistance increased considerably.

“There came a point in time when we realized that we had to graduate from being a ‘Mom and Pop’ organization,” explains Mrs. Shanik. And so Ahavas Tzedakah rose to the challenge, as the Shaniks enlisted the help of more volunteers to expand their fundraising efforts. Before long, the organization metamorphosed from being a small-scale effort to a sophisticated entity. Today, Ahavas Tzedakah has an annual budget of over $800,000, providing assistance to nearly 600 Lakewood families. Some receive weekly gifts, while many more benefit from bi-annual Yom Tov season supplements.


People tend to think of tzedakah and those who receive it in terms of dollars and cents: how much do they need, what’s their monthly mortgage payment, utility bills, and so on. The Shaniks have a very different perspective: they look at the human side of tzedakah.

“If a 10-year old girl is wearing an old, worn-out dress on Shabbos, and her younger brother’s shoes don’t even fit anymore, they really don’t care that her family had enough money to pay the utility bills that month,” says Mrs. Shanik. “And tzedakah is not only about food. Our job is to help people maintain their dignity, their feeling of normalcy, whether it’s children, teenagers or adults.”

And that is the Ahavas Tzedakah mission: to fill in the blanks – the things that are missing in each family’s situation. To make their simchas Yom Tov and Shabbos complete.

“We once received a call from a rebbi,” recalls Mrs. Shanik. “He cried: ‘How can I stand in front of the classroom with a threadbare suit?’ He’s absolutely right – and that’s exactly what Ahavas Tzedakah is here for. For some people its meat and chicken, or perhaps other groceries. It could be a hat, or shoes or a dress or even socks and underwear. But the goal is to make sure that every needy family in Lakewood has their needs met with dignity.”


A hallmark of Ahavas Tzedakah is the remarkable sensitivity in maintaining recipients’ dignity. Rather than delivering food packages or mailing checks, Ahavas Tzedakah distributes special gift cards in a variety of denominations. These gift cards are redeemable in a large number of local establishments: groceries, bakeries, meat or fish establishments, as well as a variety of men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel and shoe stores. Families can purchase exactly what they decide best suits their needs, whether a new dress for a daughter in hand-me-downs, meat and poultry for a festive Yom Tov meal, or a much-needed pair of shoes.

The gift cards don’t feel like handouts as cash disbursement do. They feel more like a present. Also, when they are used at a store, they are not recognizable as Ahavas Tzedakah cards. Lots of people use gift cards.

“That’s why I think the gift card system is such a great idea,” says Mrs. Reise Weiss of Fashion Stop. “It’s very common to have people call up and ask me for a gift card for their married daughter or daughter-in-law. Others use the Gift Card Registry cards. So a woman who comes in and presents a gift card that she received from Ahavas Tzedakah doesn’t look different in any way.”


Significantly, the gift card system also ensures that funds are being spent for what they were intended.

“A family facing financial burdens would be more likely to spend a cash donation they might receive on paying up some outstanding bills,” says Dr. Shanik. “But because the cards are only redeemable at participating stores, they will be used appropriately – and only for the amount that is actually needed.”

The system has an added advantage that maximizes the dollar value, as Ahavas Tzedakah’s director, Nechama Schreiber, explains: “Ahavas Tzedakah has negotiated with participating stores to subsidize purchases or give reduced pricing. So, a $50 gift card is worth more than $50 at the register.”


The Shaniks take their responsibility as “gabba’ai tzedakah” very seriously. Before a family is granted assistance, Ahavas Tzedakah performs discreet but extensive research to determine their true level of need. Even families who have already been receiving funds have their situations regularly revisited to ensure eligibility and to determine the dollar amount of the disbursement they will receive.

The typical profile of an Ahavas Tzedakah recipient is not necessarily a kollel family or even klei kodesh.

“You cannot imagine how many people there are who have either lost jobs, taken a cut in salary, or just cannot make ends meet – sometimes even with both parents working,” says Dr. Shanik.

“One of the unbelievable things about Ahavas Tzedakah is the people they manage to help,” says Mr. G., the owner of a participating clothing store. “People who you would never imagine are in need of help, people who daven next to you in shul – and they’re coming in with cards.”

And the scope?

“I myself see tens of thousands of dollars in purchases during Yom Tov season, and that’s in my store alone,” Mr. G. says. “I can’t even imagine what goes on in food establishments or suit stores.”


In theory, the Shaniks could be content to look back proudly at their accomplishments and continue operating Ahavas Tzedakah as they did until now. But if you know the Shaniks, you know that’s not even on their radar screen.

“Each Yom Tov we get so many more calls for help,” says Mrs. Shanik. “We are a growing community and the economy is getting tougher. There is just so much more that needs to be done.”

To the Shaniks, the only obvious course of action is to work even harder so that the need is met.

“You cannot help but be inspired by Dr. and Mrs. Shanik,” says one donor. “They are a lot older than me, but the energy they put into Ahavas Tzedakah is amazing. They just don’t stop; they don’t rest. It almost makes me feel guilty, like why am I not doing what they do? At the very least, I feel I have to give whatever I can to be a part of such selfless chessed.”

Since Ahavas Tzedakah operates with virtually no overhead costs, nearly every dollar raised goes directly to benefit needy families, and that’s something donors feel good about.

So although the Shaniks are very gratified that Ahavas Tzedakah currently distributes $800,000 annually, they are not content.

“Everyone’s needs have to be met. Everyone’s, not just most families,” says Dr. Shanik with feeling.

It’s a call to action that is very hard to ignore.

{Casriel Newscenter}