Ottawa couple helps children in Israel with toys, books

For more than 30 years, the Eisenbergs have been fundraising and supporting projects to improve the lives of children in Ottawa and in Israel. They are sharing their story now in hopes of inspiring others: ‘Who would not like to see a sick or traumatized child’s face light up after getting a toy or book that speaks to their heart?” asks Seymour Eisenberg.

“It was two weeks into the war, and we suffered family losses. Yair [my husband] was called up and I was left at home with three scared children. I needed a children's book to deal with this unimaginable situation, of a parent being called up to fight in the war, about war itself and all that comes with it. My kids needed words of comfort and strength and I couldn't find them, and I knew I was not the only one. We didn't and still don't have words to explain this to little kids, and if possible, we wouldn't talk to them about such terrible things at all.  But in my situation, I had no choice, my kids needed me to level with them and give the truth. So, with the help of illustrator and friend Daniella Koffler, we created a children's book Family in Reserves in two weeks, and with an amazing community effort, we printed and distributed 20,000 copies so far.”

--Talya Tomer-Schlesinger, author of “Family in Reserves”

More than 19,000 copies of the book were given out for free to children across Israel who saw their parents being called up to fight in the current war with Hamas. During this emotionally challenging time, these kids now have a relatable, age-appropriate book to help them cope with their feelings. 

The free distribution was, in part, supported by Ottawa couple Seymour and Edna Eisenberg. For more than 30 years they have been fundraising and supporting projects to make the lives of children better. 

Beginning in 1993, in honour of Edna’s 60th birthday, they asked that guests to the party bring a children’s toy to be donated to kids at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Having been so inspired by the outpouring of love for area children in need, the couple decided to repeat the effort, this time for children in Israel.

“I think Edna had seen an article about the need for toys at CHEO and she felt that she didn’t want to put her family, friends, and square dance group to any great inconvenience by having to buy her a birthday gift. So, each guest was asked to buy a toy to donate. In general, Edna has never liked to be asked what she would like as a gift, and anything I have ever given her needed to be a surprise. Clothing, jewelry, trips etc. The kids were not! Her face always lights up and she is always ecstatic when receiving anything, whether it is for her or for others,” recalls her husband Seymour Eisenberg.

Since Oct. 7, the couple has collected more than $4,200 that was sent to Israel for the purchase of toys and books. Part of the donation has been used to distribute free copies of the book Families in Reserve and the rest has been used as part of “Edna’s Special Birthday Project.” 

As part of this project, toys have been delivered to displaced children from the Northern town of Shlomi on the Lebanese border, who are now living in the Prima Kings Hotel in Jerusalem. In the letter from “Sylvia,” who is spending the donation on needed supplies, she thanks the Eisenbergs for their generosity and describes the impact both of being displaced and of having this infusion of toys and what it has meant to the families. As she describes it, many of these families are ultra-Orthodox and create their own communities including having teenage children attend yeshiva away from home. Living in such close quarters with no remnant of their family routine or lifestyle intact has been a considerable challenge. 

The relief and love that these families feel from the gift of a new toy or book is immeasurable. In addition, the donation has been used to set up play spaces, so the kids have somewhere to go and just be kids.
“We hope that we can wake people up to how small acts can have big outcomes,” concludes Seymour Eisenberg.