Penn Hillel students are comforting people in need of healing — one teddy bear at a time.
Audrey Singer, 21, and Aden Horowitz, 21, founded Mishe Bear, a startup that sells plush teddy bears to provide comfort to those who are ill. Each bear holds a customizable note and a heart-shaped card containing the “Mi Sheberach,” a Jewish prayer of healing.
“So many of our family members and friends have been suffering during the pandemic,” said Singer, a health and societies major. “Saying ‘Mi Sheberach’ for a loved one is very powerful, and with a Mishe Bear, the prayer can stay with them. It reminds them that someone is praying for their recovery.”
The Jewish-inspired teddy bear is designed to lift spirits and help loved ones find strength in the words of the “Mi Sheberach.” This powerful blessing (sometimes spelled Mi Shebeirach) is usually recited during prayer services, offering a moment of reflection for those in need of healing.
“‘Mi Sheberach’ is a prayer of healing in any way that you need it — spiritual healing, emotional healing, physical healing,” said Horowitz, a junior studying finance and fine art. “In a lot of Jewish families, the prayer means that someone is wishing that you heal from a divine source and receive divine goodness. It's special.”
A Mishe Bear is a simple yet meaningful gift, Horowitz said. The first, unofficial customer was her aunt, who now serves on the Mishe Bear board.
She was hospitalized during the pandemic. To support her aunt, Horowitz sent her a teddy bear with a printed copy of the “Mi Sheberach,” creating the original Mishe Bear.
“Not only did the bear help my aunt through her healing process, but it also got her really excited about the potential of Mishe Bear,” Horowitz said. “She loved the idea of a business that could make an impact on other people's healing.”
After sending her aunt a bear, Horowitz fleshed out the idea for a Mishe Bear startup with Singer. At the height of the pandemic, the young entrepreneurs went to Penn Hillel for advice.
Hillel professionals helped them navigate the start-up process, including brainstorming, networking, and proofreading. They were also instrumental in answering Jewish questions, especially Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, who serves as the executive director of Penn Hillel.
Rabbi Greenberg said Penn Hillel served as an incubator, allowing the students to connect and get exposure to Jewish ideas.
“Audrey and Aden are leaders who will create and run with their own ideas in a supportive Jewish ecosystem with help from staff,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “Our role is to help students figure out what they want and how we can support them.”
Singer and Horowitz share an entrepreneurial spirit, something they discovered they had in common while serving on the student board of Penn Hillel in 2021. Horowitz was vice president of marketing, and Singer was vice president of social affairs.
“We wouldn’t have even met if it weren’t for Hillel,” Singer said. “We’ve really leaned on Hillel for support. Aden and I credit Hillel with everything that has come out of this company.”
In January 2022, Horowitz and Singer used their bat mitzvah money to launch the company.
So far, Mishe Bear has sold approximately 125 bears, helping each customer share healing prayers from a distance.
Mira Potter-Schwartz, 21, sent her grandfather a Mishe Bear as he recovered from heart surgery miles away. Potter-Schwartz, a senior majoring in economics at Penn, also included a personal note with comforting words.
Reciting the “Mi Sheberach” has been a part of her life since she was a child. Sending the Mishe Bear to her grandfather was extra special because the message touched on her family’s traditions, Potter-Schwartz said.
“He absolutely loved it,” Potter-Schwartz said. “He wrote to me in an email that it brought tears to his eyes and has a special place under his pillow.”
The value of Mishe Bear reaches far beyond the hundreds of customizable bears awaiting their recipients. The company donates 10% of its profits to Jewish organizations, including Penn Hillel, Northeastern Hillel, Federation Early Learning Services (a Philadelphia-based childhood education program), and Sharsheret (a nonprofit that supports Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer and ovarian cancer).
Horowitz said one of the most rewarding parts of Mishe Bear is being able to give back to Jewish organizations that have supported them during childhood and adulthood.
“It just feels very full circle,” Singer said.
Singer and Horowitz said Mishe Bear is just starting to make an impact. There’s more to be done.
The entrepreneurs see two main avenues for growth: strengthening the charitable impact through more partnerships with Jewish organizations and creating additional products that inspire healing.
“It's not too gushy,” Horowitz said. “A Mishe Bear is perfectly appropriate for anybody, anytime, in need of any type of healing.”
Alexandra Goldberg is a sophomore at University of California, Santa Barbara.