For many soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, receiving something as small as a water backpack or a warm hat could make all the difference in the world.
Unfortunately, for economically disadvantaged or “lone” soldiers — those with no family to support them in Israel — getting these basics is sometimes a challenge.
Enter Yashar LaChayal, or Straight to the Soldier, an Israel-based organization that raises money for poor and lone soldiers and also helps wounded soldiers.
On Sept. 13 the president of the American board of the organization and his son, himself a “lone soldier,” came to the East Brunswick Jewish Center to thank members for the assistance. The synagogue’s Mitzvah Corps has supported the organization for the past two years.
“It’s an extraordinary thing to be involved with, and I think it really makes people’s lives better,” said Jack Silverman, a corps cochair, with PJ Smith and Marty Genee, and secretary of the Yashar LaChayal’s American board. “What could be better than that? These IDF soldiers defend the state of Israel as well as Jews around the world.”
Rabbi Aaron Benson presented a check from his discretionary fund to organization president Rich Legum, whose son, Brad, made aliya in 2008 and is a staff sergeant in Israel’s 35th paratroop brigade. Now home for a month on the annual leave granted lone soldiers, the 25-year-old Brad described the experience of lone soldiers like him.
“I found myself in a country alone without the support of family and friends, with a language I kind of understood,” he explained.
Cell phones and computers make keeping in touch with loved ones easier, yet even technology has its limits.
“I missed my grandfather’s funeral,” said Brad, “although I was able to e-mail a eulogy by phone minutes before.”
Rich Legum, of Lawrence on Long Island, brought examples of the gear donated, including hats, jackets, and the water backpacks that are “an absolute necessity” in combat. The organization also provides such everyday essentials as socks and underwear.
“I served in the United States Army, where many items like these would be issued,” said Legum. “In the U.S. Army they are given all they need to fight. In the all-volunteer U.S. Army they are paid a living wage. In Israel they are not paid a living wage. It is expected the family will help support them.”
Ari Horowitz, former president of Young Israel of East Brunswick, who now lives part-time in Ma’ale Adumim — where the organization is headquartered — spoke of the soldiers’ appreciation when he presented them with water backpacks last spring on behalf of EBJC.
Rich Legum recalled that in June he accompanied Leon Blankrot, Yashar LaChayal’s executive director, on a visit to Tel Hashomer Hospital, where they gave DVDs to an IDF member who had taken a bullet to the head during Operation Cast Lead.
Legum recalled, “You should have just seen his eyes light up when he saw those DVDs.”