June 17, 2024
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JCC on the Palisades Hosts IDF Orphans in Their Bar/Bat Mitzvah Year

Tenafly—A child whose parent gives his life for his country is left with a big hole in his heart. But the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) makes sure the children of fallen Israeli soldiers receive comfort, assistance and even some joy in their lives. When they reach bar/bat mitzvah age, in addition to a celebration in Jerusalem, the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization brings them for a 25-day trip to the United States. The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades learned about the kids, and reached out to bring them to its Te­nafly campus for an evening of fun and games on Thursday, August 14.

Sharon Goren, JCC Marketing Manager, said the JCC Israeli Center looks for ways to help out Israelis living in the area and forge connec­tions with communities in Israel. Within a week, an invitation was issued to the IDF Orphans’ group and the day’s program was planned and promoted. “We all reached out to people we know and everyone agreed to help,” Goren said. People donated food, snacks, drinks and presents. The JCC donated the use of its facili­ties and organized activities.” The evening be­gan with snacks, games and speeches in the auditorium and branched out to basketball in the gym and a water carnival outside. The IDF Orphans were joined by local families who came to celebrate with them.

Shlomie Nahumson, Director of Youth Pro­grams at the IDF Widows and Orphans Organ­ization, said the U.S. trip is one of several activ­ities for the group. They also get together for Sukkot, Chanukah and Pesach plus summer camp. “It’s important for these children to en­joy a safe environment, where they can emo­tionally be themselves, and share stories with each other in a way nobody else really can,” Na­humson said.

The counselors supervising the children are young adults who have completed army service, and some have also lost a parent. Na­humson said the 3 to 1 ratio of counselors to children ensures that each gets lots of atten­tion from young men and women who also act as positive role models. Nahumson added that the children come from a cross section of Israe­li society. The children are secular and religious Jews from all over the country – and Bedouin Moslems who are the same age. “Their fathers lost their lives fighting in the IDF, too,” Nahum­son said.

The trip began in Chicago with host fami­lies from the Jewish community. The kids con­tinued at JCC Summer Camp in Wisconsin, and then went to Washington, DC where they met with children from the Tragedy Assistance Pro­gram for Survivors (TAPS), a similar organiza­tion for families of fallen soldiers in the U.S., and then continued to New York for sightseeing.

Nahumson said it was hard for the moms at home to have their children away for so long “but they know their children are hav­ing a really good, positive, empowering ex­perience by being here.” He said the recent war brought a heightened sense of anxiety to the children. “In Chicago, the kids went to Six Flags and heard a siren from the roller coaster. They all jumped.”

Less than ten percent of the IDF Wid­ows and Orphans budget comes from the government; the rest comes from fund­raising. The program also gives out schol­arships, wedding gifts, and assistance for emotional support and financial duress. “We really want to be there for these kids,” Nahumson said. “Life goes on.”

By Bracha Schwartz

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