By: Morton A. Klein
March 19, 2010
Putting A Record 5,000 Smiles On IDF Faces: The ZOA-Israel Partnership At Its Best
So it is both with a sense of pride as the ZOA representative in Israel, and gratitude as an Israeli citizen, that I look back on the joyful execution of the tenth annual Purim-IDF campaign. Brainchild of Rubin Margules, ZOA national board member and President of the Brooklyn chapter, the Purim project proceeds each year over the course of many weeks of preparation, and culminates in a week of deliveries to IDF soldiers at their bases; mishlochei manot being the staple of our program, and this year also including the distribution of much-needed fleece jackets. A simple yet extremely profound message, personally expressed by student admirers in the US and Israel, is also presented in each soldier’s package.
A campaign of this magnitude does not happen by itself. In increasing numbers each year, hundreds are recruited on both sides of the Atlantic to participate in the multifaceted preparations leading up to the deliveries. On the US side, Rubin’s office busily garners financial support and organizes the collecting of student letters and drawings for the Purim packages. Many yeshivot and congregations throughout the NY area are enlisted for this purpose. For example, in 2010: Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Bnos Shulamith, Congregation Kneses of Israel of Sea Gate, Glen Rock Jewish Center, Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, The Shulamith School for Girls, Solomon Schechter Day School, Yeshiva of Flatbush—Lower Division and Class 5335, and Yeshiva of South Shore.
Meanwhile, ZOA’s Israel Office oversees the complex arrangements on the Israel side, guiding and synchronizing the efforts of the many assisting organizations and dedicated individuals involved; from purchasing foodstuffs and packing the mishlochei manot—5,000 in 2010!—to organizing an effective delivery apparatus for each army base enhanced by Purim-related festivities.
The packing phase of Purim-IDF this year was conducted at five sites in Israel, starting with Emunah Women’s French Hill school in Jerusalem. Trucks filled with tons of goodies and drinks arrived from the factory in economically depressed Netivot where they were purchased. Volunteers for Aluma, a wonderful organization that assists female soldiers from all walks of life facing an array of challenges, packed the first 500 manot along with personalized Happy Purim wishes gathered from the soldiers’ families.
The supply trucks then fanned out to four Shomron schools—Ramon School (Shaare Tikva), Yakir School (Yakir), Nahlat Tzvi (Elon Moreh) and Talmud Torah (Itamar)— in a coordinated program supervised by David Haivri and Yafit Ezra of the Shomron Liaison Office. Led by principals and teachers, hundreds of excited students penned affectionate notes to the soldiers, prepared 4,500 additional manot, and loaded them onto army trucks to await our arrival.
When we were ready for the distribution phase of our project, Rubin with his visiting volunteers from New York joined the Israel Office in a 7-day spree of deliveries from one locale to another. It did not seem to matter whether bases were big or small; whether they were in Judea, Samaria, Central Israel, the Negev or the Galilee; if a soldier was male or female, Jews, Druze, black, white, Sephardi or Ashkenazi; or recipients were reservists, elite Golani commandos, parachutists or regular combat soldiers—all were thoroughly delighted to receive our packages and read the heartwarming messages of Israeli and US children.
As we moved from base to base, Rubin thanked the soldiers for their defense of the State of Israel, their sacrifices and what their service accomplishes for Jews around the world. The thousands of soldiers, many unable to spend the Purim holiday with their families, thanked Rubin in turn, and asked him to relay their appreciation to the many Diaspora donors he had come to Israel to represent.
The bulk of the Purim-IDF campaign is designed for the benefit of soldiers. Nevertheless, each year we also use this as an opportunity to recognize significant others—albeit not in uniform but defending our rights on the frontiers just the same. For this year we decided to include the stalwart defenders of our nation’s eternal capital: the Jerusalem families living in Beit Yonatan in Silwan, and Neot David in the Old City’s Christian Quarter (established by Ateret Cohanim).
Pursuing this theme further, on another day in the ZOA campaign that was organized by the Orthodox Union’s Menachem Persoff and included the participation of Stan Hillelsohn, Chairman of the OU Israel Commission, we combined visits to army bases with mishlochei manot deliveries to the beleaguered former residents of Gush Katif. Sadly, after nearly five years in Yad Binyamin and Nitzan, they still find themselves mired in their transient dwellings. Our visit provided a welcome, if just temporary, relief to their usual sense of having been forgotten and the daily rigors of lives conducted in limbo. The Purim mesiba thrown for the communities’ youngsters that night capped a day that was rewarding for recipients and distributors, alike.
After Purim we continued our deliveries, this time supplied with fleece jackets and headed for the desert bases, where it can get bitterly cold at night. This part of the campaign was facilitated by Leon Blankrot of Yashar Lachayal, an organization that devotes itself, with zero overhead and in consultation with base commanders, to meeting various day-to-day needs of soldiers that would otherwise go unfilled.
Reflecting on our massive effort and the numerous players involved, it might be tempting to imagine how much easier it would have been to get a third party to distribute pre-packaged, neatly gift wrapped mishlochei manot on our behalf; and Rubin could have enjoyed a relaxing holiday with his own family. But, to my view, the spirit of cooperation alone—demonstrated by all the participating US and Israeli based organizations, IDF personnel, volunteers, and personal and organizational sponsors, including Emunah Women and Sar El/Volunteers For Israel—makes a persuasive argument for projects of this kind. Purim-IDF Campaign 2010 was conducted as a labor of pure ahavat and achdut Yisrael by all concerned, and hopefully will serve as a model for many more inter-organizational initiatives such as this one.
A special yasher koach is also deserved by the hardworking individuals who played instrumental roles in their respective domains: David Haivri and Yafit Ezra of the Shomron Liaison Office, Dovi Weiss of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron, Daniel Luria and Motti Dann of Ateret Cohanim, Menachem Persoff and Rafi Danon of the Orthodox Union, Leon Blankrot of Yashar Lachayal, and Yifat Sela of Aluma.
With movements worldwide coalescing to pressure Israel into making existentially dangerous concessions via the blunt club of marginalization, the American Jewish community needs to show that it stands behind Israel without equivocation. From supporting humanitarian projects like this to providing Israel with the political and moral backing she so desperately needs—these are the necessary elements to helping Israel overcome the obstacles placed by adversaries in her path. Be assured —ZOA will lead the way.