June 17, 2024
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Six Teaneck Shuls to Celebrate Shabbat Chayal on May 7

Since 2005, many congregations have designated a Shabbat in the spring, usually coordinating with Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, as Shabbat Chayal in support of IDF soldiers in their defense of Medinat Yisrael. Originally the Shabbat was referred to as “IDF Shabbat” and was established by Jonny Ben David, a congregant of Bnai Yeshurun, in tribute to his son who had served in the IDF as a lone soldier.

In 2012 the Shabbat was renamed “The Ilan Tokayer Shabbat Chayal,” dedicated to the memory of Teaneck resident Ilan Tokayer, z”l, who served in the IDF and was taken suddenly from his family and friends while studying enology, the science of winemaking, at the University of California, Davis Campus. His mother, Reva Tokayer, together with her husband, Aaron, and Ilan’s three siblings felt that renaming the Shabbat in Ilan’s memory would be a fitting tribute.

Every year since its inception, different shuls have marked this special Shabbat. This year, with a sense of achdut, six shuls—Congregations Beth Aaron, Arzei Darom, Ohr Saadya, Shaare Tefillah, Netivot Shalom and the Jewish Center of Teaneck—are joining together to fundraise for one organization called Osey Chail. Each congregation will host a special Shabbat Chayal kiddush on Shabbat, May 7, to mark the occasion. All donations will be designated for Osey Chail, whose mission is the support of IDF lone soldiers from Charedi homes.

Former Beth Aaron members now residing in Neve Daniel, Chana and Zvi Weissler, brought the Osey Chail organization to the attention of Beth Aaron Shabbat Chayal co-chairs Mordy Ungar, Nechama and Steven Pudell, and C.B. and Jeff Neugroschl. Founded in 2016, this nonprofit organization was the product of the love and vision of Aharon Granot, a resident of Kiryat Arba. Shocked to hear of a charedi young man who after drafting into the IDF was estranged from his family and community, Granot invited the young man to his home for Shabbat and afterwards arranged for an apartment for him.

Word of Granot’s chesed spread, and many more soldiers faced with “homelessness” turned to him for help. Thus began the organization which would provide furnished apartments for soldiers who found themselves alone. In addition to providing the physical space to these young men, Granot matched each apartment with a local “adoptive’’ family who would provide the warmth and care that they were lacking.

A member of the Mor family, an adoptive family in Kiryat Arba, said, “Osey Chail for me is a place of endless giving to the dear soldiers who are giving of themselves for all of us. For me, we are building a bridge between their sometimes difficult and despairing past and the beautiful and bright future of the soldiers. Osey Chail is a place of devotion of all the members, volunteers and adoptive families who give of themselves without limit for the sake of the lone soldiers.”

Today, Osey Chail rents 20 apartments in different locations across Israel including Kiryat Arba, Susya, Rosh Tzurim, Eli, Be’er Sheva, Ra’anana and Tel Aviv. Last year, an apartment for female soldiers was rented in Mazkeret Batya. Currently close to 70 young chayalim/chayalot are benefiting from the hospitality of Osey Chail, which has served over 200 lone soldiers since its inception and supports these soldiers from draft through their army ceremonies to completion of service. In addition, Osey Chail helps them gain the educational foundations they were missing to be able to go to university and get jobs post-army.

In the words of Granot: “Osey Chail offers a helping hand and open ears at all hours of the day and night, giving soldiers a true sense of family, someone to turn to in times of crisis and joy, and someone who will be there at critical moments. Our mission is to accept those young men and women from charedi families, no matter what their current religious status may be, and help them rise from the darkest place in their lives to success in the army and thereafter, while making sure that all their needs, practical, social and emotional, are met.”

Soldiers are referred to Osey Chail by the recruitment office of the IDF, social welfare officers, or just by word of mouth. Sometimes the organization meets with young people even before their actual enlistment and assists them with housing and even employment until their service begins. Osey Chail provides them with a room in a furnished apartment which houses three to four others and is supervised by a coordinator from the community. Soldiers return home for Shabbat, Yomim Tovim and occasional breaks to a full refrigerator, clean linens and other physical needs that the army does not provide. Gift cards are provided for the purchase of items of clothing that they may not be able to afford on their small army stipend.

In addition to the physical support provided by the loving “adoptive families,” psychological and counseling services are provided when necessary, as many of the chayalim have experienced trauma or come from dysfunctional homes and difficult circumstances. Plans for the future include expanding the psychological services to include workshops in preparation for life including coaching, mentoring and empowerment.

N.T, a fighter in the IDF Tzanchanim (Paratroopers) said: “Osey Chail is a family to me. A family that today is all I have. Osey Chail provides me with all I need in order to succeed. They gave me the power to understand that I can grow and progress. I was in a place where I felt all alone in the world. Today I am not alone anymore.”

Crucial to their successful integration into society after the IDF service is an academic foundation so often missing in the lives of these charedi soldiers. Unlike their peers who come from non-charedi backgrounds, they did not graduate high school with a matriculation certificate awarding them a ticket to the world of academia and employment. Having been educated in the charedi school system, they often have significant deficits in math, science, english, writing, computer science, and other secular subjects. Osey Chail partners with other organizations to help bridge the gap by helping these chayalim study in a program, with the goal of eventually being accepted into university. The organization pays the tuition not covered by the army benefits that some other soldiers receive; covers living expenses so they can focus on their studies; and provides educational support to help them successfully pass the high school equivalency exams. In addition, Osey Chail is launching a collaboration with another nonprofit to offer employment training and skills-building “to support our soldiers’ employment readiness and financial independence.”

Twice a year, Osey Chail plans trips for these lone soldiers so that they can relax from their personal pressures and the stress of their service. Trips around Israel are planned where these soldiers have fun and further bond with their Osey Chail “brothers.”

Osey Chail’s work has been supported by high-level IDF officers, including the former commander of the Israeli Air force, Major General (Res.) Eliezer Shkedi, Major General (Res.) Yiftach Ron Tal and Major General (Res.) Yom Tov Samia.

In the words of Osey Chail board member Itzik Silberman: “Osey Chail has a tremendously dedicated team who will go above and beyond to meet the lone soldiers’ needs before, during and after their military service. They are available 24/7 to assist the soldiers in any way and give them much needed family-like support. My family has contributed time and money to help Osey Chail grow, so that any lone soldier from the ultra-Orthodox community who left everything behind, will have a home and know that Osey Chail will always have their backs. God willing, we will be able to reconnect him with his real family.”

Osey Chail is supportive of these chayalim in every aspect of their lives and even tries to reconnect them with their estranged families when possible. Their mission is to give them a stable home and sense of family, unconditional love, and unending support. Osey Chail builds up these young people and enables them to lead meaningful and contributory lives during and after their military service.

To learn more about the work of Osey Chail and to contribute to the marking of the Ilan Tokayer Shabbat Chayal in Teaneck, go to one of the participating shuls’ websites:

https://www.Bethaaron.org/event/chayal22

https://www.arzeidarom.org/shabbat-chayal.html

https://www.ohrsaadya.org/event/shabbat-chayal.html

www.NetivotShalomnj.org 

https://www.shaaretefillah.org/form/shabbat-chayal-2022.html

JCOT.org

By Pearl Markovitz

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