I’ll never forget the first time I was describing American Friends of Yad Eliezer/B’ezri's Holiday Program for IDF Soldiers to a neighbor of mine, a few years ago. She stopped me mid-sentence, confused. "What does the program do?"
"We help soldiers from poor families, lone soldiers or others who are struggling financially. We give them help for yom tov so they can buy food. The program runs twice a year-for the Chagim and for Pesach", I answered. "Nowadays we raise $250,000 dollars and that gets matched by a foundation in the U.S. Then we distribute it to thousands of soldiers as Rami Levy gift cards. We help thousands of chayalim every year.”
She stopped, thought for a second and asked,
"Really? There are poor soldiers?"
My neighbor isn’t alone. People are sometimes under the mistaken impression that all IDF soldiers come from stable, secure backgrounds and always have a warm place to call home. If only that were true. Here are two examples of the kinds of stories we see-and help.
Yaakov S., 20, lives in Jerusalem.
Officially Yaakov is classified as a chayal boded - a lone soldier. But he was actually born in Israel and lives in a neighborhood not that far from his parents. The situation in Yaakov’s home, though, was unstable growing up, with significant dysfunction due to mental illness and substance abuse playing a large part in his childhood. Yaakov somehow managed to get by with limited help and support through social services, but it was a life of uncertainty, fear and poverty. So when he became of age, he joined the army knowing that for a few years at least, he would have some form of stability and consistency-things he never had. Yaakov’s parents are not in the picture at all and with no relatives to turn to, he truly is alone. He is on his own to support himself and often stays on base when others go home, even for Shabbat and holidays. Because on the base at least, there is always food.
Asaf F. lives in Afula. He's 19.
Asaf has never known what it’s like to live in a calm home, one without illness. For as long as he can remember, his mother, who has cancer, has suffered. Hospital appointments, phone calls to the doctor, debilitating chemo and radiation treatments, a father struggling desperately to keep his family together…this is the life Asaf has known- always living on the edge, holding his breath, praying for the best but never really knowing any peace of mind from one day to the next. Medical bills have accumulated dangerously over the years. And with Asaf’s mother being too ill for too long, and his father not knowing how to cope, family dynamics have broken down. Little income plus major bills equal terrible need in Asaf’s house.
These are just two stories of two struggling IDF soldiers.
But there are thousands more and they come from every kind of community: Sfardi, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Yemenite, Anglo. And from all walks of life: religious, traditional, secular.
They are lone soldiers from all over the world and Israeli-born soldiers like Yaakov who are estranged from their families. They are soldiers with families of their own, who, despite their best efforts, can’t provide for their children and they are soldiers who’ve been raised in two parent, poverty-stricken homes their whole lives. And they are soldiers who’ve grown up with no parents in the picture at all.
We can’t help all of them with all they’re going through, but as a leading charity for Israel's poorest citizens, we can do something.
This Yom Tov we can give them the opportunity to shop for necessities, set a proper table for the holidays and bring in the chagim just like other families.
But it’s your help that makes that possible.
Join us so we can make it a better new year for chayalim like Yaakov, Asaf, and so many others through our Holiday Program for IDF Soldiers.