Simcha Apparel Gemach
When Malka Adelman received a call from Gail, a woman whom she had never met, she was happy to help. Adelman runs the Simcha Gemach, where Atlantans participate in a classic Jewish enterprise, a clothing gemach that contains a large selection of high-quality used clothing for celebrants in a Jewish wedding.
The word gemach is contraction of the Hebrew term gemilut chasadim, which means acts of lovingkindness. The gemach is the Jewish embodiment of recycling, an example of community interconnectedness and responsibility. Each gemach is a repository of donated valuable and useful items, and Jewish communities around the world — including Atlanta — maintain gemachs of baby furniture and accessories, medical equipment, tables and chairs, kitchen supplies, and clothing.
Adelman maintains and manages an Atlanta Simcha Gemach. “The search for a special dress for an Orthodox wedding is not unusual,” she notes. “Since its opening four years ago, the Simcha Gemach has helped women throughout greater Atlanta find and afford beautiful dresses for unique situations.” Gail became one of Adelman’s fans. When her son was engaged to be married, the formal Orthodox Jewish wedding necessitated finding an elegant modest dress for the occasion. Gail knew that the evening dresses she already owned were not appropriate, and at the same time, she did not want to spend hundreds of dollars for a dress she did not expect to wear again. Her future daughter-in-law told Gail about the Simcha Gemach in Toco Hills, where she tried on several floor-length, high-fashion outfits with long sleeves and modest necklines, and she found the perfect dress.
Adelman says, “I love getting to meet people and have a brief window into their lives and hear about their simchas. It’s also a fun way to teach my children about community involvement.”
A large area of the Adelman home’s terrace level is devoted to two separate gemachs. Adelman explains, “When we constructed our home, my husband and I were asked to provide space for a much-needed clothing gemach, a popular service that exists in most cities with large Jewish populations.” The womens’ and childrens’ clothing are displayed in Toco’s Closet, and a different room is devoted exclusively to wedding apparel. There are racks of elegant dresses for members of the wedding party and posh outfits for wedding guests. Donated wedding attire includes bridesmaid, flower girl, mother-of-the-bride, formal and semi-formal dresses, and party attire for bat mitzvah girls.
Among the racks of donated clothing in the Simcha Gemach, there are new items. Adelman says, “On occasion someone comes across an amazing discount sale of beautiful dresses and decides to buy them for the Simcha Gemach. We recently received three gorgeous new toddler dresses, which were purchased for the gemach along with garments a woman bought for her own grandchildren. When women come to us looking for clothing in a particular color, often to coordinate with other dresses in a wedding party, we usually can accommodate them. Our most popular colors are pink, navy blue and pearl and silver gray.”
Adelman shared this favorite anecdote: “This is a true last-minute story. I got a call after Shabbat one evening. The family had come to Atlanta to attend a wedding the following day, Sunday, and they forgot the garment bag that contained dresses for three little girls. I opened the Simcha Gemach for them, and they found dresses for all three that were perfect in size and color. It’s a joy for me to help make someone’s simcha better in any way that I can!”
The Simcha Gemach provides the amenities of a contemporary clothing store, with dressing rooms, mirrors, professional display racks, and comfortable chairs. All donated clothing is carefully checked by volunteers for damage or stains. Some wedding apparel is returned after one use and may be recycled again. Unacceptable items, either because of condition or style, are regularly donated to Inspire Outreach, which picks up an average of 40 large bags of usable clothing every month.
There is no set fee for clothing from the Simcha Gemach or Toco’s Closet, and Adelman and her organizers and clothing sorters are all volunteers. Upon selecting clothing, each customer is given an envelope for her anonymous donation, which is used by members of Yad l’Yad, an Atlanta grassroots volunteer organization that distributes kosher food and food coupons on a biweekly basis to those in need.
Wedding Shtick Gemach
Organizing a wedding is a big job. Selecting the location, clothing, invitations, photographer, music, food, flowers, decorations and guest souvenirs are the responsibility of the celebrating family. Yet, there is another Jewish wedding obligation, one that does not fall on the wedding couple and their families. This one belongs to the guests — “mesameyach chatan v’ kallah” — to increase the joy and happiness of the bride and groom. With the help of the Shtick Gemach, everyone can get into the spirit and merriment of the celebration with simcha dancing, tricks, spontaneous surprises and cavorting.
The Yiddish word “shtick” refers to comic tricks or gimmicks; when it is used in a wedding context, it refers to the items wedding guests use to entertain the bride and groom, through dancing, costumes, juggling, singing, maracas, streamers, stunt props, and even a wedding parachute.
Hannah Fleshel, who manages a Wedding Shtick gemach, maintains an assortment that contains noise-makers, maypoles, balloons, decorated arches, floral supplies, signage, crowns, boas, hats, pom poms, and more, which are distributed among the guests. With the items in Fleshel’s shtick gemach, the reception becomes a festival of fun for all and ongoing entertainment for the bride and groom.
There have always been tummlers (zany entertainers) at Jewish weddings, and friends of the bride and groom enjoy entertaining the couple with humorous things they create and bring to the celebration. Some guests don’t have access or the ability to bring homemade items to the wedding that will amuse the celebrants, and when a community maintains a well-stocked shtick gemach, everyone has the opportunity to join in the fun.
“I started the gemach when one of our students got married here in Atlanta,” Fleshel explains. “I love going to weddings and dancing with a bottle balanced on my head to make the bride smile … that is my personal shtick. It is a huge mitzvah to bring joy to a bride and groom. My husband and I are involved in college outreach here at Emory. One of our students became religiously observant in Israel and came back here to get married. I wanted to help give her an extra festive wedding, with a lot of shtick, like the weddings she had attended in Israel. Unfortunately, it was hard to find items that the wedding guests would enjoy using.
“I began calling around, and I found things here and there that people had made themselves. Then I bought some things from New York. I figured I would make it easier for the next person to find fun items, and I offered to create a community gemach. That was four years ago. I probably lend gemach contents once a month now that life is getting more back to normal after COVID.”
Occasionally, the Shtick Gemach gets back-to-back weekend use. A November wedding at Congregation Beth Jacob, for a couple from Congregation Ner Hamizrach, borrowed wedding shtick and a community chuppah, handmade and individually set up for each event by Rachel Lovett. After the wedding, the gemach contents were re-packed and returned to Fleshel. One day later, the cartons were picked up for a wedding the next weekend at Congregation Ariel.
“Congregations throughout Atlanta are welcome to the Shtick Gemach,” Fleshel says. “The things we’ve put together serve two functions. Foremost, of course, is to entertain the couple; the second is to encourage the guests, of all ages and backgrounds, to actively participate in the simcha.”
Some items do not get returned; just as often the Shtick Gemach comes back with additional items from the last wedding, and community members frequently contribute their own paraphernalia to the mix. Over time, the contents of the gemach have increased in variety and ingenuity, reflecting the goal of kol sasson, v’kol simcha, kol chattan v’kol kallah — bringing joy and celebration to the bride and groom.
- Chana Shapiro
- STYLE Magazine
- Rachel Lovett
- maypole dance
- Hannah Fleshel
- Shtick Gemach
- Malka Adelman
- Simcha Gemach
- Atlanta Simcha Gemach
- Evening Dresses
- toco hills
- wedding dresses
- Toco’s Closet
- Congregation Ner Hamizrach
- Congregation Ariel
- Congregation Beth Jacob
- wedding parachute
- Yad L'Yad
- flower girl
- formal dresses
- semi-formal dresses
- party attire
- bat mitzvah girls
- contemporary clothing store
- kosher food
- food coupons
- Inspire Outreach
- New York