June 23, 2024
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Boots for Israel’s Successful Journey to Chayalim

Singers Yoni and Yonina.

Boots for Israel (BFI) has traveled a long way since its October 11, 2023 birth in the wake of Hamas’ barbaric October 7 massacre. BFI hasn’t stopped moving. While our IDF defenders would go barefoot in their dogged pursuit of terrorists, BFI was created so that they don’t have to.

On May 5, BFI returned to the Young Israel of New Rochelle for another successful pairing. Over 100 attendees of all ages packed boots, augmented with handwritten letters of support. The mesmerizing hum of activity was occasionally broken as volunteers snacked on Israeli food, took photos with the mountain-high, boot-stuffed duffel bags, and sang “Hatikvah.”

A message sent along with the boots.

BFI was hosted by Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) on May 13 for a memorable Yom HaZikaron program. Yom HaZikaron will forever hold new meaning for contemporary Jewry as our nation’s story reaches a dark chapter. But in darkness, a single light can shine prominently. Such was the palpable feeling of spirituality manifested by the program of mind, body and soul, which featured Israeli husband-and-wife duo Yoni and Yonina, whose popularity has been soaring thanks to a bustling social media presence.

Yoni shared his personal experience with BFI. Upon arriving at Central that morning, he was greeted by a BFI volunteer, and recounted the story of the first day that he joined the IDF operation in Gaza with very old, very torn footwear. It wasn’t long before his feet became bloody and blistered as he rapidly traversed the hostile Gaza terrain. Although Yoni was now on a reprieve from the war effort, he could be summoned back in as quickly as two weeks. On hearing that, the volunteer immediately inquired about his boot size. Within half an hour, Yoni received a brand new pair. The incredulous look on his and Yonina’s faces, brimming with emotion and gratitude, said more than any words of thanks.

Boots for Israel volunteers.

Following the assembly of inspirational stories, Tehillim, classic Jewish songs, anecdotes from BFI co-founder Yakir Wachstock of Holliswood, Queens, and an instructional video portraying both how to pack the boots and BFI’s visible impact on grateful IDF chayalim, students eagerly marched upstairs to the gym, where two dozen tables awaited them in neat formation. Adjacent to each table were boxes of boots and duffel bags. Messages of support were tucked within the pairs as the volunteers moved from box to bag.

On the heels of Yom HaZikaron, BFI traveled to HANC’ Early Childhood Center in West Hempstead on May 14 for the next step of its ongoing expedition—celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut with the whole West Hempstead community. The buoyant rush of activity among the many families in attendance honored Israel’s independence by supporting those who endeavor every day to maintain it.

Seeing volunteers of all ages in seamless action as they packed 1,700 pairs of boots showed the transformative power of achdut. These events aren’t just for communities as a whole, but are also a way for families to bond over a shared chesed experience. What’s special about these events, as Wachstock emphasized, is that within 72 hours boots can be on the feet of chayalim in Israel.

To conclude the week with warmth and enthusiasm, on Sunday, May 19, Chabad of West Orange, led by Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, hosted BFI for a gathering engineered by Irene Dobkin and Yoel Sebbag, New York regional director and senior educator, respectively of Club Z. Club Z is a group for unaffiliated Jewish youth in grades eight through 12 who are interested in stepping up for Israel advocacy and Zionism.

Well over 100 enthusiastic participants tackled dozens of boxes of boots in record time. As soon as the event concluded, a return invitation was extended. These events demonstrate that even being separated by an ocean cannot dampen the spiritual connection cultivated through chesed in action.

Boots for Israel, the grassroots organization founded and led by Wachstock with his sister-in-law Michal Wachstock in Modiin, in partnership with the Young Israel of Holliswood, El Al and the National Council of Young Israel, has mobilized American Jewry to aid their Israeli brethren since October 11. More than 50,000 pairs have been donated so far, cementing BFI’s role as the foremost overseas supplier of tactical army boots for the IDF.

For more information on volunteering or hosting your own event, please visit https://www.bootsforisrael.com. For donations and sponsorship opportunities, go to thechesedfund.com/bootsontheground/bootsforisrael. Also, follow BFI’s trail on Instagram @bootsforisrael, Facebook page, or email BFI directly at [email protected].


Jeremy Uliss, a corporate psychologist living in New York City, can be reached at [email protected].

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