When Rabbi Moshe Levin of Los Angeles received a call one day in August from his friends, Yosef and Alona Cohen, he was quite taken aback, to say the least.

“Rabbi, can you please help us figure out how to donate face masks to protect against COVID-19 to every Chabad center in the country?” they asked.

Needless to say, this is not a call that Levin—rabbi of the Chabad synagogue of Bais Bezalel in the Pico Robertson area and co-director with his wife, Chanie, of Chabad of Downtown East in Los Angeles—gets every day.

What was behind this surprising and extraordinarily generous request?

Yosef explained that he and his father, Isaac, head up a logistics and freight forwarding company, ICU-Production, in the downtown area of Los Angeles, specializing in providing personal protective equipment to hospitals. With robust warehousing capacity and numerous overseas connections, as the coronavirus pandemic began spreading and the public need for masks skyrocketed across the United States, the Cohens got to work doing what they could to secure a generous local supply of masks.

Bit by bit, they managed to do so, positioning their company as a vital resource during these unprecedented times.

A Most Unusual High Holiday Pledge

As the High Holidays approached, Yosef and Alona were thinking about what they could do to help the Jewish community.

“It was during this time that a friend of mine gifted me a painting of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson], of blessed memory,” Alona told Chabad.org. The painting is really unique, depicting the Rebbe holding a Torah scroll against a stark black background. It just struck me that this is really what Chabad and the Rebbe’s message with his emissaries is all about—bringing light into the darkness, transforming the surroundings.”

It was then that the couple decided that Chabad Houses across the country would be the best outlet for their largesse.

“We’ve been to Chabad Houses in so many different places, and no matter where it was, we always felt like it was home—and we didn’t even know what Chabad was growing up,” said Yosef. “When we saw that picture, we instinctively knew what we wanted to do.”

This portrait of the Rebbe inspired the Cohens to make their donation. (Art: RivkaKrinsky.com)
This portrait of the Rebbe inspired the Cohens to make their donation. (Art: RivkaKrinsky.com)

1,000 Locations Receive Face Masks

And so, they turned to Rabbi Levin.

A bundle of energy, the good rabbi is known to hit the streets of downtown Los Angeles and bring Torah, a good word and an infectious smile to the many business people there. It was in this context that he met with Yosef and his father some years ago, and have been steadfast friends since with the rabbi even serving as the sandak at Cohen’s son’s brit milah.

Figuring the best way to leverage the project, Levin referred them to central Chabad offices in New York to devise a plan for implementation. After a flurry of back and forth, the two parties hit upon a plan: A questionnaire application was created and promptly sent out to hundreds of Chabad centers across the United States and Canada. The central offices were to handle the front-end requests, and the Cohens pledged to handle the entire back end of sorting, packing and shipping out the masks to their intended locations.

The first round of applications came in just weeks ago in mid-August, and they just kept on coming. In about a week, ICU-PRODUCTION packed and shipped 4 million-plus masks to more than 1,000 locations. And they’re not stopping.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Cohen. “So many Chabad rabbis have called to thank us, and we are so gratified to see how much we can help with the work of all these wonderful servants.”