July 21, 2024
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Yachad Israel Brings Joy (and Pizza) to Army Bases Across Israel

Last week, members of an Israeli army base came face-to-face with people they were protecting in Israel. And their grateful visitors even brought them pizza.

The visit was organized and planned by Yachad Israel, the Israeli arm of Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. Yachad is an agency of the Orthodox Union. Twenty members of Yachad Israel—individuals with special needs—met at Haim’s Pizza in Rishon L’Tzion to bake pizza for IDF soldiers stationed at the Palmachim army base. The pizzas and the transportation were sponsored by donors to Yachad’s Pizza4Soldiers program.

“Everyone in our greater community appreciates and loves the IDF, but showing support isn’t always the easiest thing to do,” said Eli Hagler, associate director of Yachad. “Our Pizza4Soldiers campaign allows Yachad to give hundreds of people across the world the opportunity to say thank you to soldiers through our program. Creating the pizzas in an inclusive manner and delivering the fresh pies to an army base will help boost morale among the soldiers. This will continue to keep their morale high, knowing that there are Jews all across the globe who love them, appreciate them and support them.”

Yachad Israel also partnered with Magshimim Chalom—Realizing Our Dream—an IDF program that integrates individuals with special needs into the Israeli army.

Lisa Galinsky, program director of Yachad Israel, explained that the partnership was a natural fit.

“We always wanted to do something together with the IDF, so we decided this pizza idea might just work,” she explained.

Her intuition was proven right as soon as groups arrived at the pizza store. Jewish music began blasting on the stereo and both Yachad Israel and Magshimim Chalom members began dancing with each other. If it weren’t for the IDF uniforms, it would have been difficult to tell the participants apart.

Many of the participants of Yachad Israel are native English speakers. Their families either made aliyah or they grew up in English-speaking homes. However, most speak Hebrew fluently and sang along with the music.

Though Yachad Israel is relatively new, the program has had an outsized effect on participants.

Meir Malak was born in New York, but made aliyah at the age of eight, 17 years ago. He has been participating in Yachad Israel activities for the past three years, and works providing food for people in need.

“I like coming to Yachad Israel activities,” he said. “Even if I have a flight to New York that day I would come and leave early.”

Meir is also part of Yachad Israel’s RBC (relationship-building course), a social skills development program which meets once a week

“The soldiers will be glad,” he predicted.

Once the pizzas were made, participants gathered on a bus provided by Yachad Israel and headed towards the Palmachim army base. As the bus got closer to the base they could already see the excitement. As they departed from the bus, soldiers began asking questions and talking to the group—and most importantly, given the relatively limited cuisine at army bases, asking if there would be food.

Yachad Israel and Magshimim Chalom gave out the pizzas they had made to the soldiers, along with personal notes submitted by the pizza’s donors. As the stereo played again, the soldiers danced with the participants.

The Israeli soldiers were delighted with the food, but even more so with the company.

Omer, one of the soldiers serving on the base, explained that he and his unit had just recently arrived on the base.

“Coming to a new place and seeing people who come all the way here just to do this thing for us makes us all very happy,” he said.

Yuval, another soldier at the base, added, “It’s beautiful.” “We are supposed to be the ones giving to our nation, and here our nation is doing all this for us.”

The evening ended with a group picture featuring Yachad Israel, Magshimim Chalom and the soldiers of the base. As the photographer was getting ready to push the button, one of the soldiers, who was sitting with his friends away from the group, suddenly ran across the yard, guitar in hand. Everyone waited for him to join the group picture because, in Yachad, everyone belongs.

“The outpouring of support for the IDF was incredible to see,” said Yoel Sterman, director of Yachad Israel. “When we began this campaign, we didn’t know what to expect. Thanks to all of our supporters, we will bring more than 500 pizzas to a number of army bases over the coming months. As a former IDF soldier, I know firsthand how important and meaningful something like this is to the soldiers. Yachad loves Israel, its soldiers and the IDF.”

By Yael Weiner

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