Pnina Cohen is busy this week organizing a bar mitzva. The event, which is supposed to take place on August 15 in Tel Aviv, is not, however, for her own son but rather for more than 100 children whose fathers were killed serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
As the founder and director of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization, the group bar mitzva is just one of many activities Cohen and her colleagues provide for those whose husbands and fathers have been killed in the line of duty.
"There are two more children, whose fathers were killed in the past three weeks, who are supposed to have their bar mitzva soon. I might just add them to the list even though they have not finished the 'shloshim' [the tradition 30 days of mourning]," said Cohen in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "It is such difficult work and yesterday even more children were made orphans."
Cohen was referring to Hizbullah's attack on Kibbutz Kfar Giladi Sunday, which killed 13 reserve soldiers, many of them fathers and husbands.
"There have been more difficult wars," noted Cohen, who started the organization more than 15 years ago as a result of being widowed herself during the Yom Kippur war. "The difference is that we can see it all on TV now and that makes it even more difficult. I already knew from watching the news Sunday how many more people would be joining us."
"It never really ends," said the organization's spokesman Oren Semyonov. "New members are added almost every month."
While the organization plans to continue with its usual activities - the bar mitzva, a once-in-a-lifetime summer camp experience in the US, scholarships for older orphans to enroll in higher education and day-to-day services - throughout the past four weeks it has also been confronted with new challenges.
"We have received dozens of phone calls from widows living in the areas where the Katyushas are falling," explained Semyonov. "Going through such a trauma after losing a father or a husband is very difficult."
Cohen added: "Many of the widows are very anxious. They are all alone, some of them with young children." She estimated that out of the roughly 3900 women who have lost their husbands, between 700 and 800 live north of Hadera.
"We have found places for many widows from the North to stay," said Semyonov. But Cohen added that there are still many who were struggling to deal with situation and the organization was trying to find them accommodation further south, either with families or on kibbutzim.
As for those still grieving the loss of fathers and husbands in the latest conflict, Cohen said it was still too early for the organization to step in and offer its services.
"We have to wait for them to pass the 30 days of mourning," said Cohen. "Then we will go to them and show them that we are behind them."
"The Shiva is the easy part, there they have their loved ones around them," said Semyonov. "Our work begins when the war ends. Then we can help the families rebuild their lives."
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