Lt. Colonel Uri Shechter is the commanding officer for a reserve unit of 600 soldiers. "We're a very close-knit group," he explains. "Some of the guys have been doing Army reserve stints together for the last 25 years."
During the last few years the unit has often found itself at the frontline of the war against terror. Three members of the unit were killed in action. "We're infantry soldiers," Shechter continues, "so after some of the major attacks we were sent straight into the terrorist nests, to places like Ramalla, Shechem and Jenin."
Shechter's unit is also on the frontlines of chessed, kindness. "We're a real mixed group," he says, "right wing, left wing, religious, non-religious. We've grown close, so we naturally join together to take action to help our fellow Jews."
In memory of their fallen comrades, the unit has set up a special fund to help needy soldiers. They also send shaloch manot (Purim gifts) to widows and orphans, and have distributed hundreds of cakes and cookies to soldiers stationed in Gaza. "It wasn't just the cake," Shechter points out. "We were showing our fellow soldiers that we are there for them; that we care."
This year, the soldiers in Shechter's unit will volunteer for Yad Ezra VeShulamit's Pesach campaign, packing boxes and delivering food to destitute families so that they, too, can enjoy their holiday.
"We coin the project 'Operation Pesach'," Shechter says, "because it's being organized like a regular military operation. Letters were sent out to all the soldiers in my unit, and the response was overwhelming. Many of the men will be coming with their wives and families so they, too, can experience the joy of giving."
Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit
Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit was founded in 1998, when Rabbi Ariel Lurie, a well known educator, started delivering weekly food packages to several of his impoverished neighbors. Word soon spread and within a few weeks, every Thursday he was sending boxes of food to 50 destitute neighborhood families.
2,500 families receive weekly food baskets. For Passover, they are aiming to help 5,000 families.
Throughout the year, Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit distributes close to 200 tons of food monthly. 2,500 families receive weekly food baskets, several hundred people eat their main meal in one of five Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit soup kitchens, and over 400 school children eat the sandwiches that Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit distributes daily.
For Passover, however, Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit's assistance takes on the dimensions of a major military operation. "Of all the holidays, Pesach is the biggest challenge," says Ariel Lurie. "We're talking about distributing mind boggling amounts of kosher for Passover food to over 5,000 destitute families. Without this food, many of the families would be left hungry during the holiday.
"It's not just a matter of distributing the food. First, the food has to be purchased and then placed in storage before we divide it among the baskets and distribute it to the families. Although we're extremely organized, the distribution alone takes a full week.
"Depending on the size, each family receives a minimum of 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables, a package of machine shemura matzot, a bottle of oil, several pounds of sugar, containers of salt, tea and coffee, packages of matzah meal and potato flour, several bottles of grape juice and wine, and, of course, chicken and fish.
"We're presently pricing items and building the budget. In many ways, I feel as if I'm groping in the dark, placing feelers to see how much, if at all, we will be able to expand. So many families need our assistance, but our resources are limited."
Giving of Ourselves
Alex Minkoff is one of the over 500 volunteers working for Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit. Married with six children and nine grandchildren, he started volunteering twice a week, packing baskets and delivering food, after a work related accident forced him into early retirement. "Now that I had extra time, I wanted to devote it to helping others," he explains, while continuing to work quickly, filling food baskets. "When I finish work on Thursday night, I'm exhausted, but elated. It's a wonderful feeling to be doing for others."
Alex also uses his car to deliver food to outlying communities. "What impresses me the most is that Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit tries to help those people who have nothing to eat. I deliver food to one woman who has seven children. I've been in their home, I've seen it myself; the cupboards are bare. If it wasn't for Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit's weekly food delivery, they'd have nothing at all; absolutely nothing."
It's hard to imagine that in our day and age, there are actually people who do not have enough food to eat - people who go to bed hungry. But, sadly enough, with the recent cuts in Israel's social service system, hunger has become a reality in modern day Israel. Official sources state that twenty seven percent of all Israeli children live below the poverty line. However, according to Dr. Daniel Gotleib, senior advisor to Bank of Israel Governor David Klein, the poverty rate is at least 30% higher.
For families struggling to provide their children with the bare necessities, the added expense of purchasing matzot, wine and meat for the Seder is overwhelming. "On Pesach we celebrate our birth as a free nation," Ariel Lurie explains. "Every Jew, whether rich or poor, should be able to enjoy the holiday. That, in a nutshell, is what our kimcha d'Pischa (Passover food) campaign is all about -- giving our less fortunate brothers the freedom to have a kosher and happy Passover."
This year, when Lt. Colonel Uri Shechter, Alex Minkoff and the over 600 other volunteers for Operation Pesach recite the words, "Anyone who is hungry, may he come and eat," they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have helped over 5,000 destitute families be able to sit down and enjoy their own Seder. I cannot think of a better way to prepare for the holiday than through helping Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit provide food for needy Jews.
Donations can be sent to:
IN UNITED STATES:
Friends of Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit
4907 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11204
Yad Ezra Ve'Shulamit
or online at www.ezranet.com