About a week into Operation Protective Edge, we started noticing Facebook posts and local email blasts about spontaneous initiatives aimed at the families left behind by tens of thousands of reserve soldiers called to the front.
There was the cleverly named Eshet Chayal (Wife of the Soldier), a play on the liturgical poem Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valor) recited in many Jewish homes on Friday night – an Israeli and American fundraising effort for women whose husbands had to leave their jobs to do reserve duty.
There was Nashot Chayil (Women of Valor), a Facebook group to facilitate mutual support, assistance and empathy among reserve soldiers’ wives and significant others.
There were Google Docs where volunteers in many different Israeli cities and towns could sign up to provide anything from babysitting to meals to dog-walking for stressed and shorthanded families of soldiers.
In some cities, the religious youth group Bnei Akiva organized a drive to collect home-baked cakes to be distributed to every family of a soldier before Shabbat.
Lift Their Spirits, launched by Jerusalem resident Ariella Wiener through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign raised more than $6,000 to provide stress-taming services to wives, fiancées and girlfriends of troops in action.
Although the vast majority of the reservists are men, women have also gotten reserve-duty notices to assist at military staging areas and other vital non-combat tasks. Many Israeli children haven’t seen one of their parents for two weeks, and many parents, spouses, siblings, girlfriends and boyfriends are living in a state of high tension as they worry for their soldier’s welfare.
Shira Katz Vinkler, CEO of the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemite) Movement, says that a handful of the 350 families of reserve soldiers being matched with 600 volunteers have a mother on reserve duty. The vast majority, however, are missing the man of the house. And summer is especially hard, with kids out of school and many families in the midst of a move to a new apartment.
Yerushalmim, a social-action organization founded by Jerusalem Councilwoman Rachel Azaria, put out a call for volunteers and has so far recruited 600. At first, Vinkler tells ISRAEL21c, families were hesitant to come forward for help with shopping, cooking, babysitting, packing for a move, walking dogs, escorting children to activities, and other tasks. Some of the volunteers are offering relaxation massages and psychological counseling, all for free.
“We asked people to tell us about women who might need help, and got lots of names. We had soldiers call us from the frontline and say, ‘Please do something nice for my wife.’ Now families know they can contact us.”
Thanks to funding from the Leichstag Foundation and the Jewish community of Riverdale, New York, Yerushalmim sent pizzas last Thursday night to each family and Shabbat meals on Friday. One soldier wrote: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring for my family who I’m so far away from.”