ST.-SGT. KOBI ICHELBOM, who was killed in action in the Gaza Strip, places a beret on one of his soldiers..
(photo credit: AVIVA ICHELBOM)
With over 6,900 lone soldiers (without family in the country to support him or her) in the army, a few lucky ones serving in the Givati Brigade live in Beit Kobi in Givatayim, a nongovernmental facility that becomes their second family.
“He once told me, ‘it is not extraordinary to become a good soldier from a home like mine, what’s important is to take someone having a difficult time and to lift him up,” Beit Kobi founder Aviva Ichelbom told The Jerusalem Post while gazing at a picture of her son, St.-Sgt. Kobi Ichelbom, placing a beret on the head of one of his soldiers.
Ichelbom died on March 10, 2002. He had been serving in Netzarim in the Gaza Strip with the Givati Brigade when Muhammad Awad, 21, from Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp opened fire, killing him and seriously wounding 41-year-old Pinhas Seltzer, Netzarim’s security officer.
Ichelbom had been scheduled to be discharged from the army in just a few more months.
Six weeks before his death, his mother Aviva had a feeling that she was going to lose her youngest son. When she heard that an IDF soldier had been shot while serving in Netzarim she and her husband, Shalom, rushed to Beersheba’s Soroka-University Medical Center, she knew in her gut that her premonition was about to come true.
Aviva told the Post that throughout his service, Kobi had worked hard to nurture soldiers who came from economically disadvantaged families, or who no longer had a connection with their families. He understood that for these soldiers, the army was like a second chance at life and had always encouraged them to become leaders and then successful citizens once discharged.
“That was his main belief.
To look at someone who had it hard and to help him. He was always there for his soldiers, and believed that his job as a commander was to help his soldiers become successful,” Aviva said.
After his shiva mourning period, Aviva opened up her heart to soldiers that her son would have wanted to see succeed by founding Beit Kobi. A nonprofit organization, Beit Kobi not only houses lone soldiers in three apartments that accommodate three soldiers each, the lone soldiers are “adopted” by local families, and are provided with all their needs, from psychological help (if needed) right down to hot meals and laundry.
But Beit Kobi only houses soldiers serving in Givati, Aviva said, explaining that “the connection with Givati is one of blood. Kobi died while serving and fighting with Givati. My soul will always be connected to them.”
“We are their family. At every stage of the road we are here for them,” she added, explaining that volunteer families who adopt the soldiers at Beit Kobi provide them with a sense of family, visiting them at their bases and supporting them at every important event during their service. Beit Kobi also provides support to their soldiers after they are released, helping them with finding work and even financial help to pay rent.
“I always thought that had Kobi not been killed I would have done something similar, but his death gave me this opportunity,” Aviva told the Post. “Beit Kobi is my son’s unwritten last testament.”
“People always ask why so few? Why only three apartments? But I believe it is not just about providing a place to live, this is a family. Every soldier is his own universe and every soldier is like my own child,” Aviva said.
Yechiel and Maor live together at Beit Kobi and both credit it for their success.
“I’ve been on my own since I was 16,” Yechiel told the Post. “At first I didn’t know anything about Beit Kobi.
When I first came here we watched a movie about Kobi, and that pushed me to want to succeed and even go to officer’s training. When I came back and watched the movie again, I realized while I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to, I have succeeded.”
For Maor, who left his home at 13 years old, “Beit Kobi is like my family. It’s a unique place. We get everything we need here and because of Beit Kobi I’m succeeding.”
There is also emphasis on workshops and courses for commanders, with thousands partaking since Beit Kobi opened its doors 15 years ago.
According to Aviva, “We don’t teach commanders how to be commanders, the army does that very well. We teach them about the man behind the commander. Kobi always said that a better man is a better commander.”