As the song goes, “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.” In “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tzeitel may have been singing about marriage, but today one could also be speaking about computers. Mordechai Luchins, a Teaneck resident, has made “matching” restored laptops and other machines with needy recipients his personal mission.
Many people speak about chesed–chesed opportunities, chesed projects, chesed hours–but fewer actually make chesed part of their daily lives. Luchins is, fortunately, one of those individuals. He not only makes the match, so to speak, but he personally refurbishes and donates the machines as well.
Luchins has been building his own machines since 1997, around the time he unsuccessfully attempted to fix his own broken laptop. He quickly learned from his mistakes, and this endeavor was, to him, a logical extension of his expanding knowledge base.
Luchins repairs broken laptops, tablets and even smartphones–and takes them all in any condition, working or not.
“I’ve taken laptops with shattered screens, laptops missing 90 percent of their body, and one laptop that has fire damage. As long as it’s 2007 or newer, I’ll at least give it a look,” Luchins explained.
Even if a machine isn’t fixable, it is valuable to Luchins because it can be used for parts. He has a large pile of laptops he currently cannot fix, some because they need parts and others that will ultimately be used as “donors” and harvested for their working parts. The majority of the parts used for repairs come from donated machines.
Luchins also takes donations of laptop batteries or even just chargers. If he gets a machine that needs a small part, Luchins will solicit a donation for it, but avoids soliciting cash. However, he has dealt with people who have been “very generous and donated for shipping, etc.”
Luchins is seeking older tablets. “There are some scenarios where a tablet works better for someone than a laptop, and I can take some older Android models and put a custom, updated OS on them,” he said.
He is also frequently asked about iPads for special needs children, and is actively seeking those donations as well.
One group he assists quite frequently is divorced women who, for one reason or another, no longer have a home computer. Generally, their requests are for laptops that provide basic online and word processing services, making them fairly easy to accommodate.
Prioritizing his machine recipients is a difficult task. Luchins tries to do it on a” first come, first served” basis, while also balancing their individual needs. For example, if someone can use a laptop that only works plugged in, that may come more quickly.
“We occasionally get a request for something very specific. Generally, though, I ask what they need and see what I have. Generally, people want a machine for e-mail, light video, web browsing or word processing. That’s easy. It’s the people looking for image or audio editing that take a bit more time,” he said.
Luchins also does not ask for proof of need, believing that if someone is asking, they must be sincere. If that turns out not to be the case, “that’s between them and Hakadosh Baruch Hu,” he said.
As far as recipients go, not all are from the Jewish community. In fact, “several of the laptops for Houston [went] to non-Jewish families who had reached out to JFS there…Rav Ahron Soloveichik z’l once said ‘A Perfect Being created an imperfect world and tasked an imperfect creature with the mission of perfecting it.’ [This applies not just to] Jews, [but] for all His creations. If someone asks me for a laptop, I don’t care what faith they are,” commented Luchins.
Almost all of Luchins’ donations come from individuals in the New York/New Jersey area. In two cases, small companies sent him reject machines, but “that’s a rarity,” he said.
“We have had machines mailed in from places like LA, Florida and Georgia. In one case, someone drove a box of machines up from Maryland. Recently my parents were in Israel and someone donated a machine for them. We’ve actually sent a couple of tablets to Israel,” Luchins added.
In all cases, the first step is to wipe the hard drive, erasing all data, thus preserving the privacy of the donor. For a small donation, he will copy the donor’s files off their machine for them. This is often a key point for donors, who may have been stuck with their files trapped on a broken machine, with no way to access them.
With “a budget of zero,” Luchins avoids shipping whenever possible. “People tend to be great about delivering [machines] when asked. During the Memorial Day flooding in Houston, someone was amazing and made a large donation specifically for shipping. That paid for over a dozen machines,” stated Luchins gratefully.
His limited budget also causes him to do minimal advertising, relying mainly on word of mouth to publicize his services. A recent article in Mishpacha magazine helped somewhat, and he also has a small social media presence. There are fellow tech support people who help him out, providing a “chevra” of sorts, with whom he can interface regarding tech work, parts sourcing, laptop transportation, identifying clients in need and even shipping. Some of these individuals include Ed Abramowitz of Links Residential, Yoni Frommer of Cross River Bank, Jerry Salit of Salit Auto Group, Jason Gershman of Passaic, Ra’anan Schwarzmer of R-Mer Computing, Yoni Gross of Queens, Yonatan Kaganoff of Washington Heights and Garb Consulting.
To date this year, Luchins has repaired and delivered approximately 75 machines, with four more “on desk” waiting for one last part. He also has about six individuals waiting for machines.
“[And] don’t ask me how many machines I have waiting for me to re-test; I’ve lost count,” he halfheartedly joked.
The bottom line for Luchins is pairing inventory with need. “It’s like being a shadchan in some ways.”
“Matchmaker, make me a match,” indeed.
By Jill Kirsch