Shlomo Habib was a clerk in the Israel Air Industries for 40 years. As he started working there he also began a career in playing soccer for Hapoel Yehud which was in the Israeli National League, the highest at the time in Israel.
He was far from religion at the time and never considered coming back to Judaism and if you ask him “How is it that you came back to Judaism 15 years ago?” he’ll answer with a confused laugh; ”I’m not sure myself!”
Before becoming observant Shlomo went to many classes and lectures from Rabbi Raphael Zar which he gave in his newly opened Kollel in Yehud. “I was once at a soccer practice and a friend asked me to come with him to a lecture from Rabbi Zar after practice. I agreed. I came to the class in my soccer uniform with shorts to hear the lecture,” said Shlomo.
When he finally became observant Rabbi Zar told him how he explained to the other lecture goers not to say anything to Shlomo if he comes in with shorts. Shlomo actually came in 3 more times in shorts back then before realizing he should come dressed in something more appropriate for a synagogue and lecture.
“I told myself that from now on I won’t come straight from the practice but I’ll first shower and change and that’s what I did.” He continued to come to classes and eventually started to keep Shabbat. From Shabbat observance his progress sped up dramatically. “It wasn’t easy with the whole family in the beginning but we got over it and it worked out”, Shlomo optimistically says.
Shlomo continued to work in the Israel Air industries and he suddenly found himself taking on a new project. A friend proposed they collect all the soft drink bottles form their department to use the proceeds of returning the bottles to buy sugar for the Kollel. Shlomo got into it enthusiastically: “In our department every meal came with a small plastic soft drink bottle.” They started collecting the bottles but Shlomo became obsessed and started looking for bottles everywhere. “I would go out for a run and come home with 30 bottles. I’d take a vacation in Eilat and I came home with a bag full of bottles! I became one of those that looked everywhere for bottles.”
People in the Air Industry even though they worked in different departments recognized him from being a soccer player. When they saw him collecting bottles and learned of the cause they all jumped on the bandwagon and started bringing him their bottles. What started as something small became something really big. “By lunch-break we had a half hour Torah class. The one who delivered the class always reminded the group whom the bottles benefit so they would all bring in bottles. We got hundreds of bottles this way.”
But this was just the beginning. Shlomo found a storage room the factory didn’t need and stored his bottles there. Parallel to this all his work colleagues saw how serious this project was and they started bringing from their homes. “They had a party they saved their bottles for me. They even brought beer bottles which are 1.20 shekel each. I would reach 3,000 bottles a month”, Shlomo said.
Whoever gathers more than 1500 bottles can have it picked up from his location instead of needing to deliver it. Shlomo made a steady membership with the company and was given sorting bags to separate the glass, plastic, beer bottles and cans. I would sort out the bags people gave me. Sometimes the bags were filthy or even had roaches in them but G-d gave me the strength to carry on and I would raise 900 shekel a month for the Kollel. I would always give the Kollel 1,000 in case there were more bottles than 900 so I shouldn’t be keeping the money for myself.”
This money went to pay for the coffee room of the Kollel. “I would bring sugar, coffee, tea, milk, toilet paper and tissues to the Kollel every Sunday and I told them if they’re ever short to call me anytime even in the middle of the night to resupply if necessary.”
There was always leftover money which Shlomo set aside for 2 needy families who couldn’t afford diapers for their babies or baby formula. He would buy the things they needed and leave it by their door anonymously.
“In order to maximize the benefit of the money I looked for deals. I once bought a bulk package of 30 kilograms of sugar and kept it by me until the Kollel used it up. This way I cut costs.”
Did people know why you were gathering all these bottles?
“Definitely! I originally explained to them it wasn’t for me, that it was for Torah learners and needy families. I would go over to new workers and explain to them what I do and I would bless all those who brought me bottles. My family also understood how important this was to me and my adult sons started bringing me their bags of bottles.”
For the duration of this project, Shlomo saw countless signs of divine intervention. “These bottle collection trucks don’t wait around for anyone. If you’re not out there they keep on going. But every time I had to go out to the truck my boss didn’t need me for those minutes or the rain suddenly stopped and I always succeeded in bringing my bottles out to the truck.”
Shlomo recently took early retirement but his bottle collecting continues on a smaller scale. But the Kollel has nothing to worry about. “From these bottles I earned 140,000 shekel over the years and this money is set aside in a special account for the Kollel which should be enough for the next 10 years.”