When charedi women traveled to the bedsides of wounded soldiers and the homes of fallen soldiers in the months of July and August as Operation Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge) progressed, their trepidation was very real. In Israel, charedim and the army is a sensitive issue. Would their visit be viewed with cynicism or would it be welcomed?
Ima LeIma There hadn’t been time for extensive preparations when, one evening towards the end of July, Elisheva Yafe and her friend, volunteers for Ima LeIma, left their children at the height of the supper and bed-time routine and traveled to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center. “We weren’t sure where we were going or who we were going to visit. And we certainly didn’t know what we were going to say,” recalls Elisheva. But their worries were for naught. “In every room we entered, silence suddenly reigned. There was tremendous excitement when everyone realized we were addressing the mother and not the wounded soldier. No one had done that before. We weren’t bringing another balloon to decorate the room. We were bringing comfort to the mother,” she says.
Ima LeIma is the brainchild of Dr. David Landau, from Golder’s Green, London. In collaboration with Ayelet Hashachar, a non-profit organization that is working to bridge the gap between religious and non-religious Jews in Israel, the Landau family was able to give charedi women the chance to express their empathy with Israeli mothers who were sacrificing their sons in the war. Ima LeIma provided the appropriate framework within which mothers were able to share their faith and understanding and stand by other mothers while they began their painful healing process. “Ima LeIma was founded to drop the politics and talk heart to heart,” says Dr. Landau. “No one needed the gifts we brought, but everyone appreciated the attempt to reach across the divide. It was the sort of thing you’d do for your friend’s family,” he says.
Comforting the Wounded “Behind every soldier stands a mother who sent her son into battle,” says Elisheva. “We told the mothers that we were there to hug and support them. We let them know that we were thinking of them and praying for them all the time.” Along with the words of comfort, the volunteers gave out impressive trays of cakes. In the first room, Elisheva gave out a tray torkiot, a blintz-like delicacy filled with fish, which had inexplicably been included. “At first, the soldier’s mother was speechless,” she recalls. The mother then said, “A few days before my son was enlisted, we threw a huge party and I prepared hundreds of torkiot. Thank you for giving me the feeling that the circle is closing.”
In some rooms, the mother was absent. Sometimes it was because she was catching up on some rest after having been at her son’s side all day. “One soldier, whose twin brother was still fighting, was very moved by our visit and told us that he’d pass on our message to his mother,” says Elisheva.
But things didn’t always go as smoothly. “In the next room, when we asked the visitors to point out the mother to us, we were told that she wasn’t there…she had passed away.” Elisheva had no idea what to do. All she knew was that she wasn’t going to leave with her box of cake. Then the words came to her. “Your mother is surely watching over you and praying for your recovery,” she told the soldier. “We will be your mother too and pray for your quick recovery.”
Consoling the Mourners While we all brace ourselves before visiting a house of mourning, sometimes you need an extra dose of courage. “We were doubly brave,” says Rachel Greenblatt, Administrative Secretary to Rav Raanan and Coordinator of Ima LeIma. “We were strong enough in our faith to believe that our sons are doing their part by learning and we were courageous enough to visit the wounded and the mourners even though we were unsure of how we’d be received.” But their fears were allayed, for in every home the chareidi women were swept through the crowds towards the mourners. “Your ways are very respectful and intelligent. You share our pain,” said one mourner. Visting Rait Tsafrir, the young and pregnant wife of thirty-two-year-old Major Bar-Or Tsafrir of Holon, wasn’t easy. “Her sad eyes looked as though they had run dry of tears,” says Rachel. Rait was moved to see her visitors and shook their hands warmly. Then she told them that Rav Yona Metzger, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, had come to visit the day before. “I felt like G-d Himself and the Prophet Elijah had come to talk to me,” she said. Tsafrir’s mother, an elderly widow, spoke heartbreaking words: “He doesn’t want to stay there. He’s probably trying to break open the aron,” she said. “I tried to break it myself but I couldn’t…”