July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

More Than Just ‘Friends on a Mission’

The “shul” the group built.

It started as a surprise trip to Israel to celebrate a friend’s milestone birthday. Six Teaneck friends, Luna Paul, Malka Neuman, Merav Dahan, Karine Baron, Judith Ryba and Audrey Cohen went to Israel after Chanukah with a general idea of wanting to visit family and also to volunteer, but without the exact details ironed out.

Before embarking on their self-made volunteer mission, the women met with Rabbi David Hanania Pinto, Shlita to get a bracha for their journey. He told them that their trip should not only be about volunteering but rather also about giving encouragement to the people in Israel. He said that this way they would find that they gained a lot more than they gave. This blessing opened their eyes, creating a shift in perspective for the experiences that were to come.

One of the first places the women went to visit was a lesser-known kibbutz right on the border of Gaza called Kibbutz Kisufim. They had a connection with someone who was involved with the security of the kibbutz who took them on a tour of the shattered settlement, resulting in their absorbing the destruction as if it were their own. Together with the Chabad Rabbi of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, the women made a barbecue for the soldiers who had been in Gaza, distributing gifts they had brought. And the soldiers’ vitality was strengthened by seeing the support and the care of those who had come to visit.

Within each battalion and each troupe, under every tank and bunker are stories upon stories, layers of struggles that are hidden behind the uniforms of those who soldier bravely day in and day out. But the stories started to emerge in dialogue, each one unique and laced with sadness. The women “read” and cherished each page, and vowed to assist with the stories in which they were immersed, hoping to help each narrator arrive at a happier setting.

Despite the pain in the individual chapters, the “books” as a whole carried paragraphs that were ruffled with hope and happiness, and a pervasive excitement buzzed through the crowd.

In conversation, one of the soldiers mentioned that he really needed something. They had been davening and doing Shabbat under a simple tarp that sometimes didn’t actually repel rain. He mentioned they could really use a place to pray and sit to have their meals. The women immediately collaborated with the Chabad rabbi and within two days they had a tent erected, thereby effectively building their first “shul” for these soldiers.

Wherever they went, to a shiva house, to tie tzitizit, to make sandwiches, they introduced themselves and spent time getting to know the individuals around them with the intention of later being able to help them. “Please don’t forget about us” and “Please help us,” were among the pleading text messages they received from evacuees and soldiers as they were nearing the end of their trip, desperate to continue the lines of connection and eager for support from their brethren abroad.

And so the women focused on continuing the energy that they had gained from their personal mission, and used it to reimagine the lives of those whom they had met. There was a soldier they had encountered who had six kids under the age of 9, including two sets of twins. The youngest pair was a year old, and the women set up a page to collect money to help put them in daycare so that the soldier’s wife could have a much-needed break.

It was through this incident that they decided to really combine forces, and they came up with the idea of “Friends on a Mission”—a group created to focus on personal testimonial, introduce people via video to a specific person with a certain need, collect the funds and then contribute directly towards obtaining that need (as opposed to just sending money). When the goal is achieved, they then share a video of gratitude. Each day, the focus is on a specific “Mission of the Day.”

To date, Mission of the Day has successfully purchased and delivered equipment to soldiers, given baby blankets for infants born to women whose husbands are not with them, and is currently working on helping a reservist who has had to leave behind the gym he owns in order to serve in the army.

The originators of Friends on a Mission decided to use other avenues of fitness to sustain the reservist’s fitness center, and they came up with the idea to create a large event: “Dance for Israel” is an event for women and girls, with the message of, “We will dance again.” The idea follows the message on the tattoo of freed hostage and Nova survivor, Mia Schem. The Zumba event will take place on Sunday, March 17th at Avenue Event Space in Garfield, which was generously donated by the owner, Yuval Granevitz. Friends on a Mission hopes to create a vibrant day of unity and dance to commemorate and honor those who were lost, and to support those in need.

Friends on a Mission is also hosting a mega bake sale right before Purim, on Taanit Esther, at TABC. They are asking for volunteers to bake and manage the sale, and of course to come purchase delicious food to break the fast, for Shabbat or the upcoming Purim seuda and mishloach manot. They will be selling a delicious array of soups, sourdough, challah, dips, pastries, and #Bringthemhome merchandise, which will also be showcased at the Zumba event.

The friends on their mission knew and understood that the actual trip to Israel was indeed an opportunity for them to gain, and they all emerged changed from the meaningful experience. But the Rabbi’s blessing had another layer to it: what do you then do with your newly improved selves? How do you choose to react to the cumulative changes you experienced? Where do you focus your energy and direct your emotion? How do you enhance the connections you have made with whatever you have learned? These six friends put their heads together, combined their energy and their unique talents to use the experience as a foundation on which to build more than a shul-tent, they built an entire organization that has the potential to impact and support many.

In the final steps of creating their non-profit, the Friends on a Mission foresee a beautiful future of continuing to help others, each one finding her role in the mission, spreading the word and making strides to change the world, one mission, and one day at a time.


Sarah Abenaim is a writer, life-coach, and journaling workshop curator, who lives with her husband and kids. To be featured in one of her stories, please reach out to her at [email protected] or to David Siegel at [email protected].

 To learn more about how you can make an impact in the war effort, check out https://tinyurl.com/Rinat-VolunteeringinIsrael.

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