By Jane Gordon
For many years Temple Israel has had a Quilting Group making beautiful baby quilts for hospitalized and needy babies in Israel and Canada. In recent years, following a request for black IDF approved knitted toques from the Bayit Shel Benji (Benji’s Home) for lone soldiers, in Ranaana, the Ottawa group recruited knitters to make a winter hat for every lone combat soldier living in the Bayit.
The Bayit was established in memory of Major Benji Hillman z"l who was killed in action in July 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. At Benji’s shiva, his family heard from many soldiers under his command, and in particular from the lone soldiers, how Benji had helped them and taken care of them, above and beyond the call of duty. Inspired to do something significant to honour his memory, Benji’s family and close friends raised the necessary funds to build the Bayit. Since its opening in early 2013, it has been a special place that lone combat soldiers in Israel can call home for the duration of their army service.
A “lone soldier” is a soldier in the IDF with no family in Israel to support them: a new immigrant, a volunteer from abroad, an orphan, or other individuals. The Bayit not only provides housing, but they also have a Guidance Centre any lone combat soldier, can receive help to transition from active service to a fruitful life in Israel. Initially the Bayit housed 50 soldiers and after two expansions, today it houses 87 soldiers. The Bayit is expanding again and when the new building opens in early 2024, the Bayit will be able to house 180 lone combat soldiers.
When the present war against Hamas started, Ottawa received an urgent call from the Bayit. They had sent their entire stock of Ottawa-made toques to the Gaza enclave because there was an immediate need for the soldiers already on the front-line. The Bayit then needed to resupply, to support their lone soldiers who would soon be heading to the front. When asked how many toques the Bayit needed, the response was, “First enough for our 87 soldiers and then thousands for us to forward to other soldiers on the frontlines! It is very cold at night in the desert.”
It was time for the Temple Israel knitters to spring into action! We knew that our small group would need help, given the urgency and number of hats requested. First, we reached out to the Ottawa community and were able to recruit additional knitters, both Jews and non-Jews. Next, we searched the Internet and used “Jewish Geography” to find helpers in other parts of the country. “Mitzvah Knitters” of Toronto, as well as “Hats for Israeli Soldiers,” jumped on-board. Finally, we contacted individuals and groups outside of Canada who we knew personally and encouraged them to start a knitting group in their own communities. Like us, these groups were thrilled to be able to do something practical to make the lives of IDF soldiers a little easier.
By the end of November, the joint effort has sent over 600 hats to Israel, and we are not stopping there! The Bayit is working with us to send toques to the front lines within hours of their arrival in Israel.
In addition, our Temple Group seems to have become a hub for those in Canada and across the globe who want to start donation projects of their own. To date, we have heard from and helped individuals and groups in the U.K., U.S., South Africa, France, Israel, and, of course, Canada. All these interactions have led to new projects around the world and the soldiers have benefited with many much-needed items including over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, long underwear, backpacks, and protein bars.
A huge thank you to the many people who have helped keep the soldiers on the front lines a little warmer. We are still looking for knitters, donors, and help with transportation to Israel.
If you want to know more about how you can help, please contact the Temple Israel Office in Ottawa.
--Jane Gordon is the past president of Temple Israel Ottawa