The members of the Teaneck Jewish community may be quarantined in their homes, lives all but on hold, but their involvement in the welfare of their fellow Jews worldwide is never “on hold.” As fervent supporters of our young men and women serving in the IDF and protecting our beloved Israel, our community hosts many fundraising events throughout the year in support of the IDF.
One such annual event is Shabbat Chayal, which was established approximately 10 years ago in memory of Ilan Tokayer, z”l, a native of Teaneck who served in the IDF as a lone soldier in the Kfir combat unit from 2005-2006. In 2011, while enrolled in a program at UC Davis in Sacramento, CA, studying to be an enologist (botanist specializing in wine making), Ilan was tragically taken from his family. The Teaneck community, led by Ilan’s mother, Rena Tokayer, established an annual Shabbat Chayal in his memory through which financial support is lent to organizations that support IDF soldiers, both native-born Israelis and those serving as Lone Soldiers from around the world.
This year, despite the closed doors of our shuls, a virtual kiddush will be held at Congregation Beth Aaron on Shabbat Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (May 2), shortly after Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Spearheading this Shabbat are Mordy Ungar, Nechama and Steven Pudell and C.B. and Jeff Neugroschl, who have selected the organization Yashar LaChayal as the recipient of this year’s support. For the Pudell and Neugroschl families, supporting Yashar LaChayal is particularly meaningful. The Neugroschl’s oldest son Alexander and two sons of the Pudell family, Akiva and Naftali, served and currently serve as lone soldiers in the IDF.
According to the committee, as in years past, 85 percent of the monies raised will directly go to Yashar LaChayal and 15 percent will be directed to Beth Aaron’s sister city Beit Yatir to help defray the costs of its summer programs. A Zoom session with the Yashar LaChayal’s leadership will take place on Sunday, April 26, when participants will hear first hand about the organization’s on-the-ground efforts on behalf of our chayalim.
This year, Yashar LaChayal quickly transitioned into emergency mode in response to the coronavirus. According to Nir Sinay, program coordinator of Yashar LaChayal, “Realizing that all IDF combat soldiers would be confined to their bases for at least five weeks, Yashar LaChayal organized additional donations of hygiene products and hair cutting machines to combat bases at which many of the soldiers were not able to stock up on these much needed supplies. In addition, individualized laundry bags were distributed to bases throughout Judea and Samaria, enabling the soldiers to keep their laundry separate and easily located. Yashar LaChayal has distributed hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizers, underwear and socks to soldiers at bases around the country.”
With their sons so far away from family, the Pudells and Neugroschls feel that Yashar LaChayal and programs like it provide critical support that is vital for the overall health and care of our soldiers.
Founded in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Yashar LaChayal provides humanitarian support to Israeli soldiers through many creative projects. As a result of the generous support of a single donor family that covers all of the operational costs, all private donations to Yashar LaChayal go directly to these projects and to the soldiers.
Yashar LaChayal is credited with creating “Pina Chama,’’ or Warm Corner Project, which provides rest stations where drinks and snacks are left for soldiers stationed in the area of Yehuda and Shomron while they are out on patrol. For soldiers whose families are financially distressed, Yashar LaChayal provides basic supplies of linens, towels, clothing, blankets and toiletries to supplement what the army provides.
The Injured Soldier Fund of Yashar LaChayal, through its Rapid Response Team, supplements the medical attention given to hospitalized soldiers and provides emotional support to the soldiers’ families. Another program, Hoops for Heroes, provides soldiers with VIP tickets and dinner at basketball games in Pais Arena in Jerusalem, a highly valued treat. Providing recreational respites, Yashar LaChayal brings mobile basketball hoops, ping-pong tables, caravans with exercise equipment, heating and air conditioning units and even frozen drink machines to desert areas.
In the face of the devastating loss of a soldier, Yashar LaChayal jumps in with its Bereaved Family Fund to provide the widows and orphans with financial assistance with day-to-day expenses, academic scholarships, assistance with milestones such as weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations, funding for afterschool activities and private tutoring—all to promote healing and adjustment to a new way of life.
As recently as April 15, in Ma’ale Adumim, Yashar LaChayal volunteers put together Pesach food packages containing Haggadahs, seder plates and decorative wine glasses and a whole array of Pesach delicacies. These were distributed to over 850 soldiers throughout the IDF including Golani, Nachal and Kfir Brigades, and the Netzach Yehuda Battalion. Among the contributors to this Pesach project were three New Jersey shuls: Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, the Young Israel of East Brunswick and the East Brunswick Jewish Center. The Haredi Lone Soldier Fund provides for and assists Haredi soldiers who are estranged from their families and spend their Shabbatot and Yomim Tovim alone.
The coronavirus has had an impact on all of the chayalim, including Alex Neugroschl and Naftali Pudell. As Alex pointed out, “the biggest change since the coronavirus hit is not rotating off base every two to three weeks. After so many weeks straight on the base without a break, “a few days off base to rest and recover would be a welcome relief.”
Nonetheless, both Alex and Naftali have benefited from the kindness of organizations like Yashar LaChayal and regular citizens of Israel. Naftali, from his base near Gaza, commented that he was told shortly after Purim that he should expect to remain on his base “indefinitely.” When local residents heard this, they brought over drinks and snacks to the soldiers before Yom Tov and Shabbat. The local children even made “Thank You” videos for the soldiers. Naftali said that this raised their spirits and made them feel appreciated.
Throughout Teaneck there are scores of families whose children are serving in the IDF and who are indebted to the services provided to their children by organizations such as Yashar LaChayal. In a gesture of appreciation, the Shabbat Chayal co chairs are looking forward to the community’s participation through donations to the organization, which can be made by visiting www.bethaaron.org/event/chayal20.
To learn more about Yashar LaChayal, visit www.yasharlachayal.org.
By Pearl Markovitz