Home away-from-home for lone soldiers also provides Guidance Center for discharged soldiers.
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Five years after opening its doors, HaBayit Shel Benji is adding 12 more rooms to accommodate IDF combat soldiers without family in Israel who call it home.
Currently 75 lone soldiers live in the Ra’anana dormitory founded in memory of Maj. Benji Hillman. The London, UK native rose to become company commander of the Golani Brigade’s prestigious Egoz commando unit. He was killed in 2006 in the village of Moran a-Ras at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War.
The 12 additional rooms will mark the second time HaBayit Shel Benji has expanded to house the growing number of lone soldiers. In 2013 when the facility opened, it had 48 rooms. In 2016, an extra floor was added with 27 new studio apartments. When the next phase is completed, there will be 87 rooms.
“We opened this (HaBayit Shel Benji) because Benji was killed three weeks after he got married, and the first thing we said was we need to do something to carry on his legacy,” Saul Rurka, Hillman’s first cousin and founder of the home told The Jerusalem Post
“The first thing that hit us was lone soldiers because so many people talked about it during his shiva and when we looked into it we realized it was something very important to him,” he continued, adding that during the week of mourning the family heard how Hillman took care of the soldiers under his command, particularly those with no family support.
The home is open to lone combat soldiers from abroad, ultra-Orthodox Jews who have been disowned by their families and communities for serving in the IDF, and soldiers who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds or who have no contact with their families.
“We started working on this in early 2006 and it took six and a half years to raise money, get land... It took forever,” Rurka said, adding “This has now become my full time everything.”
For the duration of their service, each soldier at HaBayit Shel Benji has his or her own air-conditioned room with cable TV and Internet. During their furloughs, they receive three meals daily. The facility includes a library and recreation room. Each lone soldier is connected with an adopted family which helps with his laundry.
“When you’re in the army and you get off for the weekend, you don’t want to deal with problems like laundry and bills,” New Jersey native Moshe, who serves in Golani and has lived at the home for the past year and a half told the Post
. “The stuff might seem small. But when you get home from the army and you’re tired, every little thing makes the biggest difference.”
“For every problem and discomfort you were there to make a plan and find a solution,” another lone soldier recently text-messaged Rurka in appreciation.
HaBayit Shel Benji also serves as a guidance center which provides educational and vocational help to more than 350 discharged lone soldiers every year.
“It’s guidance into civilian life,” Rurka said of the program which helps newly released lone soldiers find a job or career. The program also helps find and furnish a post-army place to live, and helps veterans manage a budget, get scholarships for higher education and navigate the country’s bureaucracy.
“Going back since we started the house, the number of people who have gone through guidance and stayed are around 90%,” he said, explaining many lone soldiers leave Israel after being discharged.
According to the most recent annual State Comptroller’s report released in May, there are major deficiencies in assistance given to the lone soldiers following their release from the IDF. Many struggle to adapt into Israeli society, the report noted.
“It’s very clear that lone soldiers are not happy with the existing solutions,” Rurka said.
“This is not a good thing. We are in 2018 now. We started in 2006, and I thought that once we opened that people would see that this is what lone soldiers want and they would start building similar models,” he said.
“We are happy to work with any organization which wants to create a similar model because this is not a business. We are not competing. There are so many lone soldiers so even if there were 20 similar homes, it still wouldn’t be enough.”If you or anyone you know could benefit from guidance after the army through HaBayit Shel Benji, please contact Dana at 0544254123.
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