As Israeli security forces remain on high alert — working overtime to deal with Palestinian knife and car attacks — congregants at a Long Island synagogue have been raising money to provide some soldiers with a bit of entertainment during their time off.
“We felt it was important to do something now, in the midst of all the mishegas — especially for those who are on the front line,” said Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, spiritual leader of the 375-family Jewish Center for the Hamptons in East Hampton, L.I.
The project will break up the daily routine for soliders in Israel’s Border Police, which is jointly sponsored by the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police.
“These guys and gals are working two and three shifts without a break, and for Chanukah we wanted them to have a little Chanukah fun,” Rabbi Zimmerman said.
With a green light from the IDF, the shul raised more than $11,000 through a 24-hour email campaign.
Inspiration for the project came from a Jerusalem Post article about an Orthodox congregation, Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md., that raised money to buy takeout food for soldiers, police and first responders from Jerusalem restaurants whose businesses had suffered because of the terror attacks.
Diane Wiener, executive director of The Jewish Center of the Hamptons, a Reform congregation, reached out to the Kemp Mill Synagogue and the Reform congregation Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, N.J. The three sent an identical fundraising email to their members.
The letter explained that the funds would provide “much needed rest and relaxation” to the soldiers.
“In this way we are providing them with what they need — rest, refreshment, renewal and tangible gratitude,” it continued. “They will know that we are with them and recognize their genuine need for some rest and the human touch from their American Jewish brothers and sisters.”
The letter ended by observing: “This project transcends denominational differences and divisions. This is a genuine symbol for achdut yisrael, the unity and shared responsibility of the Jewish people wherever we may live.”
The three congregations worked with Israel-based philanthropic consultant Arnie Draiman, who had worked with the Kemp Mill Synagogue on the take-out project.
Tamir Oppenheim, executive director of the Midwest Region of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, said the IDF welcomes such support.
“I tell Jews and non-Jews that we bless those who want to do good for the Jewish people in Israel,” he said. “My only concern is to make sure the money they are sending supports the cause they want it to.”
He noted that the Friends of the IDF also works with the Border Police and has for many years.
“We have donors in my region who support soldiers in the Jerusalem area and up north,” Oppenheim said. “We are also bringing hundreds of supporters to visit soldiers in bases. They have a great relationship with border patrol units around the country. They are part of our family and we give them everything we give IDF soldiers. We are sending them for R&R, giving them money for capital projects — they are part of our family.”
Oppenheim’s organization raised $105 million last year — a record amount because of the Gaza War — and $95 million this year. Some of the money was used to send 10,000 soldiers to college.
In a phone interview, Draiman said that as soon as he learned the three congregations had raised a total of about $15,000, he contacted the Border Police’s equivalent of the Friends of the IDF, hired a comedian, ordered extra snacks and donuts for the soldiers, and worked to set up a show that was held last week in the base auditorium for 300 Border Police soldiers.
“Soldiers are always appreciative of what people around the world do for them,” Draiman said in an email. “The show of support from Jews and non-Jews and from all corners of the globe astounds them. One soldier I spoke to said, in a word, ‘Amazing!’”
He said the money would also be used to take another 100 or so soldiers for a recreational outing to a local amusement park. The rest of the money would be used to buy wooden tables and benches to create an outdoor “quiet corner” on the base for soldiers to meet with visiting family members.
Asked who selected which soldiers would participate in the amusements, Draiman said he works “directly with the social welfare officer of the unit and the non-commissioned officer in charge. They know who is on duty and who has to get off. The social welfare officers also work with the families of soldiers.”
“There are several thousand soldiers in the border patrol and all would have liked to attend the shows because they are all working overtime in a very dangerous situation,” he said. “But the auditorium holds 300 and so we couldn’t take more.”
Rabbi Zimmerman said he was “amazed this could be put together so quickly.”
“It was a tangible way of doing something personal on Chanukah for them,” he said. “It was a way of touching Israel, and any community could do it. It was terrifically received by everybody.”