Solidarity with a hug

Varda Druker, CEO of Adopt-a-Battalion, talks about the community formed by businesses and the IDF.

Varda Druker, CEO of Adopt-a-Battalion (photo credit: MOSHIK LINDENBAUM)
Varda Druker, CEO of Adopt-a-Battalion
(photo credit: MOSHIK LINDENBAUM)
“The Adopt-a-Battalion program strengthens the community and the IDF,” explains Brig- Gen.
(res.) Avigdor Kahalani, chairman of AWIS.
“It’s our flagship project where the community adopts battalions, creating a connection that is much more than arms. As someone who fought in many wars in Israel, I know that what gives strength to a soldier is not the tank or weapons, it’s the society behind him that embraces and empowers him, assists him and lends a sympathetic ear. A strong society gives the feeling that there’s someone and something to fight for.”
CEO of Adopt-a-Battalion Varda Druker was founder and first editor of Lady Globes magazine, as well as media adviser to Rafael “Raful” Eitan when he served as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister before joining Adopt-a-Battalion. She spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the project.
How did you come to your present position?
I worked as a busy lawyer but eight years ago, when Aryeh Fishbein, then CEO of Adopt-a-Battalion called me, I reported immediately. I accepted the job despite the fact that I earned a lot as a lawyer because my work here gives me more satisfaction because it involves a meaningful contribution to soldiers’ well being. When I started, the project had 20 adopted battalions; today we have over 180 battalions.
What is the idea behind the project?
Today, real modern Zionism includes community involvement. Soldiers work hard to protect us at times of war and training. It is a continuous battle to protect our borders and to make sure that we civilians can continue living our daily life. We founded the organization in order to strengthen our warriors.
Who is involved in the project?
Only combat units during mandatory service. We find commercial companies and recruit them to the project. Every company donates NIS 100,000 annually to the battalion, and commits to three years. All donations go straight to the battalion; there are no management fees. My salary is paid by the Association for the Well being of Israel’s Soldiers (AWIS) and not from donations to Adopt-a-Battalion. The donations provide a budget for social activities such as sports day, social evenings, furnishing club rooms, and activities for special groups such as lone or needy soldiers.
For example, a battalion officer can use money from the budget to help a needy soldier.
Is there any connection between company employees and the soldiers?
Of course, that’s the nice part of the idea. For example, a needy soldier who has to work in order to support his family but wants to continue serving as a warrior can take a special leave in order to work for a few weeks and then return to the battalion. In this case, the adopting company will help him find work. El Al adopts the Tzefa battalion and gives soldiers work in the company; some will even work there after being discharged. Beduin soldiers receive training in the Israel Chemicals company and begin working there after finishing their army service. Another battalion, together with the company that adopted them, planted a grove of trees near the training base and now they enjoy a green shady area close by. It’s not a contribution that you give and forget, it’s a contribution where those involved are personally engaged.
It’s a win-win situation. Company employees unite and are empowered by the fact that their company contributes to the IDF, and the soldiers are happy to receive their contributions.
What is your connection to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews?
We recently signed an agreement with the IFJC headed by Rav Yechiel Eckstein that has made him into a strategic partner. He took upon himself care of all the non-adopted battalions until adopting companies are found. Today he adopts 11 battalions, providing a security net and interim budget until I find adopting companies.
What activities are planned for the near future?
We’re starting a series of community activities around the country beginning in Sderot with a joint effort by a company and a battalion to renovate a public park. A major event will take place on August 18, when 2,000 Kfir warriors will contribute to the community in a special volunteer day throughout the country.
Describe an incident at work that was particularly moving.
Something exciting happened two years ago at a ceremony for renewing adoption of a squadron. The adopting company that deals in transport is headed by a businessman called Bondi. A young officer went on the stage and presented Bondi with a picture of the squadron symbol with a Polish concentration camp in the background. The soldier was his grandson and for Bondi it closed the circle. He said that as a child who had survived the Nazis, coming to Israel and seeing his grandson serve in an elite IDF unit was a unique moment for him.
There is also Varda, a resident of Ramat Poleg Netanya and mother of three, two of whom have already completed their army service. Her daughter serves as a military police investigator in the career army. “I’m a proud mother,” she says “and I enjoy visiting different places in Israel from Beit Hahayal in Tel Aviv to Tzomet Golani and Sderot.’’ What gives you satisfaction in your work? The Adopt-a-Battalion is a social responsibility project that comes from the heart. It is essential in Israel where there is no welfare budget for IDF units. It is heartwarming to see workers donating to the community out of appreciation for the soldiers. It’s nice to see the embrace given to the warriors by employees and by others around the country.
This interaction moves me time and again.