On the morning of July 9, Benji Davis, an American Oleh in his mid-twenties, woke to a find an email from a friend, “Let’s do a toy drive for the kids in the south.” Usually Davis, who is part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) Post Aliyah team, focuses on creating events that give Olim the tools they need to acclimate to society. But since Operation Protective Edge started, it had become clear that the number one thing on the minds of many Olim was: how could they help others?
Through NBN, Davis realized that he could mobilize a community of Olim to take part in this effort and through the network of the NBN Go South program, the Olim were able to act quickly. Expanding the toy collection to include essential products for lone soldiers, as well as Shabbat meals for Israelis in a trauma center in the south, the NBN staff worked out the plan’s logistics, finding people who could collect the goods, setting up drop off centers from Haifa to Hashmonaim to Herzliya, and recruiting people to deliver the goods to various cities in the south.
Once the collection drive was published on Facebook, over 200 people quickly expressed interest in getting involved- from USY and Bnei Akiva teen groups based in Israel that went shopping for toys at a local Rami Levy to international groups that donated money for the Shabbat meals to a company that offered free manicures to brides located in the south. “It was a 36-hour whirlwind of getting phone calls and emails from people both in Israel and abroad who wanted to help,” said Davis.
By Friday morning, donations from Herzliya, Ra’anana, Modiin, Hashmonaim, Givat Shmuel, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Gush Etzion were delivered to Israeli and new Olim families in Ashkelon, Beersheba, Sderot, and Netivot, the Trauma Center in Ofakim.
Ora Cohen, a staff member at the Barnea Absorption Center in Ashkelon who delivered the gifts to soldiers wounded in Gaza, said the soldiers’ parents were full of appreciation. “I told them the gifts were from Nefesh B’Nefesh and they were so touched that all of these people just wanted to give,” she said.
The collection drive is one of the many ways that NBN’s Olim are stepping up in droves to help their new community members during this time of need. An army social worker, who is also an NBN Olah, has volunteered to speak to any other Olim about their experiences. Because the gans and camps have been cancelled in Beer Sheva, a local community with many Olim has created an afternoon camp that takes place in different members’ homes where there are safe rooms.
In addition to continuing the collection drive, NBN has reached out to all of its Olim in the south to provide them with support, as well as English resources about safety precautions. In the next few days, NBN will be sponsoring an English seminar on coping with trauma, run by a social worker at Ben Gurion University. It will be held in both Beersheba and Ashkelon.
“Everything we’ve done over the past few days has been a grassroots effort,” said Davis. “There were so many people who wanted to get involved, and I’m thrilled that Nefesh B’Nefesh was able to make the connections