Sometimes a mitzvah is just a part of life. We do it by rote and don’t give it a second thought. Sometimes a mitzvah is so hard to perform we have to make a conscious effort to do it right – or even perform it at all. Recently, one particular mitzvah has actually become an obsession for me; it has taken over much of my thoughts, most of my time and a significant portion of our home office.
About eight years ago, when I spent a summer in Israel with my children, we volunteered with an organization called A Package from Home. Started in 2000 during the outbreak of the second intifada by Barbara and Marvin Silverman, APFH has morphed from a project in Barbara’s living room into an organization that makes thousands of packages a year, filling the emotional and physical needs of many lone soldiers.
Every year after that, I returned to volunteer and pack packages. Once home, I began collecting some of the items the soldiers need in their packages. For eight years I took these items along with me to Israel. Then this past November when 70,000 reserve soldiers were called up to the border of Gaza, things changed. For one, the son of good friends of ours from the Five Towns was serving in the IDF. He was a lone soldiers and he was called up. My own son, the same age was working hard beginning his last year in college. He and my 18 year old high school senior were coming home safely every night.
It was unbearable for me to sit idly by as young men, no different than my sons, awaited their orders on the border of Gaza. Every time I looked into my sons’ eyes it was all I could think of. I felt despair and helplessness. Shira Gilor, my contact and project manager for APFH told me that they would be preparing to make thousands of packages. They would surely be short on some items and definitely short on money. In that instant I knew this was my opportunity to become useful. I contacted friends who were dentists, dermatologists and optometrists to see if they had any samples they could donate. Within days the donations were pouring in. People went to the local pharmacy and picked up whatever they could – sample size toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorants, eye drop, lip balm and lotions were left on my doorstep. People brought cases of candy. With the help of some very dedicated friends, we began a campaign in our local shuls, and at shiurim and tehillim groups. Even a shul in Brooklyn signed on.
How to get the items there was the next undertaking. Again, I appealed to friends – this time ones making trips to Israel. We offered to pay for an extra bag. I learned that most people are only too happy to do a mitzvah, if only given the opportunity. I was heartened by how few people actually took the money. Instead, they offered to pay for the extra bag as their way of contributing to the mitzvah (as if taking the bag was not enough). Friends, teachers from HAFTR, former-seminary girls going back to visit, parents traveling to visit children in yeshivot, college kids visiting friends all came out of the woodwork and took bags. That was last November.
Fortunately, Israel avoided war and most of those soldiers were sent home. However, it occurred to me there was no reason to stop collecting. There are many wonderful soldiers who have no family support. Whether they are in imminent dangerous situations or not, they still get cold, their socks get wet, they run out of toothpaste and their skin gets dry. Why not help APFH with the packages they make all year round? Along with many wonderful people in the Five Towns, to date we have sent over 20 duffel bags of items to APFH, which they have turned into hundreds if not thousands of packages.