Hacham Yom Tov Yedid Last Chief Rabbi of Halab
By: Miriam Sasson
An Exclusive Interview with Mrs. Yaelle Cohen
From a small hesed project,cooking and delivering food to four needy families, Global Kindness burgeoned into an acclaimed, worldwide organization helping untold numbers of people around the world, providing food, services and virtually anything to anyone in need, anywhere, under the capable and dazzling leadership of Mrs. Yaelle Cohen of Los Angeles.
In LA’s Pico neighborhood, you will find a Global Kindness warehouse, and a storefront open seven hours daily, dedicated to serving those in need and for drop-offs of unwanted items. Global Kindness offers food, clothing, furniture, therapy, medical services and more.
Just how far does its operation extend? “We will pay for funerals, if necessary,” Yaelle says. “Sometimes, we will pay people anonymously to say Kaddish for someone who cannot or will not say it on his own.”
On a happier note, Yaelle jubilantly relates, “We have made 11 weddings so far!” Yaelle’s most recent celebration was this past May, when she and her husband Nouriel hit the one million mark of meals for the needy.
What is truly amazing about Global Kindness is Yaelle’s sincere desire to help others, which is so apparent in what she does. Without fanfare, she and her husband will themselves come to pick up leftover food from an event, no matter the hour, or to lift a heavy piece of furniture from someone’s home. And even now, 11 years later, when the organization is no longer a “one man show,” there is still just a nominal amount of hired help.
From the Depths
When Yaelle married 25 years ago, her husband Nouriel was the successful owner and manufacturer of a line of beauty products. The couple lived in Beverly Hills, and was riding high in the lap of luxury.
“We simply lacked for nothing,” Yaelle recalls. But four years after she married, on Erev Yom Kippur, Yaelle was hit with a devastating piece of news that shook her family’s life: their beauty products company was closing down. They didn’t see it coming, and there was little they could do to salvage or sell the business.
“We were instantly reduced to poverty,” she said, “but on Erev Yom Kippur, it was slightly easier to have the proper perspective that everything is from Hashem. We just went to shul and tried not to think about it.”
During the next few years, there was just no money. Yaelle and her family led a humble lifestyle, at one point making do with little and relying on family members for even a simple piece of chicken. One day, when her kids had one bowl too many of cereal and milk for dinner, Yaelle poured her heart out to her sister, Perla.
“Yaelle!” Perla cried over the phone. “You’ve got to pick yourself up. As Torah-observant Jews, there is only one way for you to go: hesed. When you do hesed, Hashem lifts you high.”
Yaelle comes from a distinguished rabbinic family renowned for kindness and selfless generosity. Her father, Rabbi Reuven Abutbul, a”h was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Montreal, and her mother, a”h,had been involved in hesed all her life.
“My mother was the head of the women’s hevra kaddisha in her area,” Yaelle says proudly. “She would bake and deliver challah for those in need, help marry off brides, and more.”
Her sister was spot-on, Yaelle realized, and she knew she wanted to dedicate herself to some sort of hesed, despite the difficulties she was facing.
On the Way
“Right away, I called a local organization to volunteer my services,” Yaelle continues. She would pick up leftover food from events, often very late at night, to be redistributed to indigent families. Though she was expecting her sixth child at the time, and keeping late hours posed a challenge, Yaelle was totally committed. Over time, people – including those who appeared to be well-off – would approach her asking for leftover food.
To her shock and dismay, Yaelle realized that there was a far greater need for charitable assistance in her community than she ever imagined, as there were so many fellow Jews facing dire financial straits. With her ever-generous nature and golden heart, Yaelle began to regularly cook meals for four needy families. Her husband, Nouriel, hopped immediately onto the bandwagon, taking care of the business angle, ultimately establishing Yaelle’s hesed as an official nonprofit organization. Prophetically, the two called it Global Kindness, not realizing at the time just how “global” their fledgling project would become.
It didn’t take long for Yaelle and Nouriel to recognize that there was privation in other areas as well, besides the need for food. “People needed clothing, furniture and other of the most basic possessions,” Yaelle remembers. Despite her own difficulties, Yaelle was unrelenting in her desire to ease other people’s distress and ensure that they are cared for.
People quickly learned about Global Kindness and began to help out. The Cohen home was the go-to place for contributing money or donating food, clothing and furniture. Eventually, Global Kindness headquarters expanded to include a warehouse downtown. which housed all donations except for clothing, which was stll deposited and sorted at the Cohens’ home. Yaelle continued to pick up unused food from banquet halls, as well as surplus bread from bakeries, a practice which continues today.