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Barbecues From the Heart

Barbecue on November 8, 2023.

When the war in Israel first broke out, Malka and Brian Agus, a couple living in Jerusalem, were eager to help out in any way that they could. They wrote in their family group chat, asking for ideas on ways to help the war effort. Their aunt and uncle, Shany and Michael Ashkenazy, who live in Greenwich, Connecticut, were just as eager to help. “Mikey wanted to fly out there and go fight,” Shany said. “He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t focus. He just needed to go to Israel and do something.”

Michael grew up in a large family, with barbecues being the way that they celebrated milestones and other festive occasions. “He barbecues with his heart and soul,” Shany explained. “It’s how his family shows their love.”

As they were trying to figure out how to assist in the war effort, the idea was born that Malka and Brian, who live in Israel and are connected to the community there, could coordinate with Michael and Shany to start a barbecuing initiative for the soldiers. Michael came to Israel within the first week of the war to help Malka and Brian get started. In order to make it happen, they teamed up with their good friends Yehudah Levy from Jerusalem and Rami Lesnick from Beit Shemesh. When Ashkenazy arrived, he found the crew prepared to begin immediately: they had rented U-haul trucks, bought barbecues, and acquired all the necessary equipment. Each one of them quickly and seamlessly found their role in the process.

Barbecue on November 13, 2023.

“As we prepared for the first barbecue, I thought we would have so much to figure out,” Malka said. “But it was all figured out. Yehudah had everything we needed, Rami had contact with the butcher, and everything went so smoothly.” They kept barbecuing each night at a different base, and started receiving requests from various units all over Israel.

The Ashkenazys spread the word that Americans going to Israel, either on missions or to visit, could sponsor and host these barbecues. The team works with individuals, large groups, and families traveling from abroad, and they tailor the size of each barbecue to the budget of its sponsor.

“It’s not a fancy event,” Malka explained. “And the sponsors are not ‘guests.’ They are behind the grills, interacting with the soldiers. They are working.” Shany added: “It’s not just hot dogs and hamburgers. Rami, Yehudah, and Brian and are all serious meat guys. There is no cheap food. They do it right. We serve the highest cuts of chicken and steaks, and beautiful gourmet side dishes, sometimes including beef carpaccio. We have many incredible marinades and finger foods, too.”

Their team has become a “well-oiled machine,” Shany explained. People reach out and tell them when they are coming, what their budget is, the location they prefer, and then they just show up, help grill, and talk to the soldiers. The barbecues can range from bases as small as 20 soldiers to locations with thousands.

Barbecue on December 17, 2023.

At several events, there was entertainment as well. Local DJs got the soldiers dancing, and bigger names in Israel, such as Itay Galo and Hatikva 6, performed. One evening in November, the chief cantor of the IDF, Lt. Col. Shai Abramson, came to bless the 2,500 soldiers at the barbecue. Several weeks ago, a family came and celebrated their son’s bar mitzvah by sponsoring a barbecue. The soldiers danced and sang with the bar-mitzvah boy and his family.

“It’s a way to show the soldiers how much they are appreciated and loved,” Malka explained. “They are in this horrible situation, witnessing life-changing moments. We try to re-energize them on their breaks, to go back in and do what they need to do.”

Barbecue on December 17, 2023.

To be involved in a barbecue, please reach out to: [email protected].

To make a donation: https://www.charidy.com/solidarity

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