For three blazing hot weeks during the summer of 2006, former Passaic resident Leon Blankrot divided his time between dodging Katyusha rockets and distributing essential supplies to IDF soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Just a few months earlier, he was approached by a philanthropist who wanted to aid soldiers by providing them with basic essentials. Blankrot was eager to help, and the two stayed in touch. When the Second Lebanon War broke out that summer, Blankrot sprang into action, providing soldiers with the supplies they were lacking. The events of that summer were the forerunner of what later that year became Yashar LaChayal. Blankrot has served as the organization’s director since then.
Blankrot is no stranger to helping his fellow brothers and sisters. As a university student, he co- founded Volunteers for Israel and sent over 5,000 Americans to volunteer on army bases around Israel. After making aliyah, he worked in the Foreign Ministry overseeing coexistence projects between Israeli Jews, Arabs and Bedouins, and then served as the director of the Appeals Authority for the Claims Conference, securing German reparations for Holocaust survivors.
In his role at Yashar LaChayal, Blankrot spends much of his time in the U.S. raising funds to provide soldiers with the support they need, from food certificates to clothing to appliances, so that when they return home over the weekend, they can have a bed or a working refrigerator. The organization also provides aid to wounded soldiers and support to families of fallen soldiers and distributes packages to thousands of soldiers before holidays. Despite his busy schedule, Blankrot insists on personally distributing supplies directly to soldiers. These interactions are the moments he cherishes most in his role.
He also pays home visits to soldiers. On one occasion, he visited a soldier who was struggling financially. When he entered the soldier’s home, he noticed that the kiddush cup—which Blankrot described as quite basic—that Yashar LaChayal distributed to soldiers ahead of a holiday was displayed prominently on a kitchen shelf. “It was a stark moment when you feel you are making a difference,” he explained. “I was thinking to myself, this family is so poor that this was a prized possession to them.”
Blankrot is particularly proud of one of the organization’s flagship projects to build “warm corners” around the country. There are currently 27 warm corners throughout Israel, mostly located in very remote areas. Each is stocked with food, coffee and tea. Soldiers often visit these rest stops when patrolling in order to recharge, cool off or warm up, depending on the season. Blankrot often receives photos of combat soldiers in full gear, indulging in hot soup in the middle of a cold winter night or just enjoying a few moments of relief. One soldier sent Blankrot a letter saying that “it is not understood how somebody can care so much for soldiers.”
The IDF provides soldiers with basic essentials. But there are gaps in the system, especially with regards to soldiers from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have the funds to supplement the minimum that they receive from the army. According to Yashar LaChayal’s background, 20% of soldiers come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which leaves a lot of soldiers who require extra assistance. Blankrot is determined to help every one of them.
Blankrot’s work with Yashar LaChayal is not a job, but a way of life. His motto is a quote from the rabbi of the Warsaw ghetto, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who once said, “The greatest thing you can do in this world is do someone a favor.” This was Blankrot’s high school yearbook quote, and it still guides his life today. He hopes that eventually any soldier who requires humanitarian support will know how to reach Yashar LaChayal and receive what they need. In the meantime, he is doing many favors.
For further information on Yashar LaChayal visit https://yasharlachayal.org.