Anyone who supports Israel will recognise the importance of the Israel Defence Forces. We shake their hands as we see them walking the streets in their uniform; profusely thank them for their service, raise money for their continued wellbeing and education. But what about when the unthinkable happens and a member of the IDF is killed? As we mourn the loss of a soldier the lives of their families are changed forever.
It is during that tragic time of total readjustment that the IDF Widows & Orphans Organisation (IDFWO) offers essential help. The nonprofit charity established in 1991, is the sole organisation recognised by the State of Israel that represents the widows and orphans of Israel’s fallen soldiers and security forces.
The numbers are staggering: with the situation in the Middle East so fragile there are 8,000 women and children who have lost loved ones in the Israel defence and security forces. For Sara Omer, an olah from Manchester whose husband Reuven Omer died in 2008 during a training exercise while on reserve duty, the IDFWO has helped rebuild her family’s life.
The charity has allowed her to meet with other people who have gone through similar experiences, while her children have attended camps for orphans of IDF soldiers, and been able to go to North America on a special charity trip for IDF orphans of bar and bat mitzvah age, which they’re still talking about years later.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the IDFWO is there for me and my kids throughout the year,” says Omer. “All of these uplifting programmes have played a vital role in allowing me to cope and rebuild our lives in a very positive manner.”
The charity runs several events and programmes throughout the year to celebrate milestones and support its members, from young orphans to widows over 80-years-old.
“Through these programmes, we believe that we are demonstrating to the IDF orphans that we are there for them throughout every milestone that a parent should be at,” says Yuval Lipkin Executive Director at the charity.
“We provide backpacks filled with school supplies for IDF orphans entering first grade and run Otzma Camps for IDF orphans four times a year. We have a large bar and bat mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem, we organise a trip to North America, we provide university and vocational training scholarships and we give wedding gifts to IDF orphans.”
The bar and batmitzvah celebration in Jerusalem is a particularly memorable and poignant occasion, where dignitaries and supporters both from Israel and around the world gather to stand in the place of the fallen fathers, showing orphans and indeed widows that they are supported by people around the world, and that their parents’ or spouses’ sacrifice will never be forgotten.
For widows there are dedicated programmes to help them with their grief, including the giving of Rosh Hashanah gifts, rejuvenating day trips, a widows’ retreat, medical grants, financial grants, and advanced skills courses that are offered throughout the country.
“Through these programmes, we are giving IDF widows a much-deserved break from their hard lives,” Lipkin says. “We’re giving them the tools to help live better lives.”
To offer all of this requires funding and there are many way to raise money for this crucial charity.
“We love it when supporters get involved,” says Lipkin. “People in the UK can make tax deductible donations with gift aid through our website, but there are other ways. We have a bar and bat mitzvah twinning project in which a supporter will be paired up with an IDF orphan also going through their bar or bat mitzvah. They get to create a long-lasting relationship while also creating an online fundraising campaign.
“People can celebrate their simchas by creating a mitzvah project,” he adds. “We work with our supporters to create an online campaign and give all the necessary resources and support needed. Supporters can also celebrate their simchas by asking for charitable donations to be made to the IDFWO in lieu of gifts. We also suggest hosting barbecues or picnics to raise awareness and funds for IDFWO.”
By supporting the charity, you’re not just helping the families of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice for the State of Israel, but also providing IDF soldiers with the knowledge and peace of mind that if something should happen to them, their families will be taken care of.
For families like that of Sara Omer, the charity has simply helped the family to go on during the most unimaginably difficult time. In the words of her son, Yotam, still dreaming of his North America trip -“the IDFWO has enabled me to meet people where we feel each other’s pain and support one other. I just can’t imagine my life without the organisation.”
• Visit : idfwo.org/donate