Orchestrating kindness

A Package From Home teams up with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra to raise money.

IDF handing out packages  (photo credit: Courtesy)
IDF handing out packages
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Dear Barbara, your packages came just in time for winter. Your hats warmed our hearts, and the long underwear warmed our bottoms. Sincerely, Nahal Brigade 931.”
Thousands of letters like these, though not always as cute and witty, pour into Barbara Bloom Silverman’s mailbox month after month. Bloom Silverman, founder and “mother” of A Package from Home, distributes care packages to IDF soldiers every week. And next week, in honor of the care-package organization’s 10th anniversary, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra will perform a gala concert at the Jerusalem Theater, conducted by the Hebrew University Orchestra’s music director Anita Kamien and featuring renowned pianist Roger Kamien as guest soloist.
What began 10 years ago as a delivery of Shabbat food to some hungry, worn-out soldiers at a lone checkpoint quickly turned into a household name and an integral part of the army’s physical and emotional fortitude.
“We had just passed a checkpoint where some young kid in uniform had been standing for hours, wearing all his gear and sweating profusely,” recalls Bloom Silverman. “It was a Thursday, and I said to my husband, ‘I’m going home to cook for Shabbat, but what will they have to eat here at the checkpoint – some measly chicken and halla?” “Barbara, you can’t feed the entire army,” Bloom Silverman’s husband said.
“Well, I can feed six guys, especially if I’m already cooking for Shabbat anyway.”
So it began. But one checkpoint turned into two, and two turned into three, and at each delivery soldiers pointed Bloom Silverman in the direction of their friends’ checkpoints farther on.
Bloom Silverman says it was important for the products to be homemade and that she never identified herself but said the food was just from “Jerusalem neighbors.”
But as the numbers grew, her homemade cookies needed to be store bought, and volunteers came into the picture.
“For me, the army is the most crucial part of this country – without them, we would be gone. And to cook for the army is a great pleasure. Besides, I like to cook anyway,” she says.
When the second intifada broke out, Bloom Silverman realized it was time to do more. She e-mailed her friends and family, asking for names and locations of lone soldiers, and began sending them packages. Each package contained letters from volunteers, schoolchildren and donors, all wishing the soldiers their best and thanking them for putting their lives on the line. According to Bloom Silverman, there are currently more than 5,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF.
But individual soldiers weren’t enough. “We started an adopt-a-unit program. This way, shuls and communities or individuals who wanted to donate more could make a more substantial contribution,” she explains.
Bloom Silverman works in cooperation with Lt.-Col.
(res.) Zvika Levi, known as the “Father of the Lone Soldiers.” She receives updates from him on which units need special attention due to the pressure of their missions and sends them packages to boost their morale and show them that the Jewish people care about them.
One lone soldier called Bloom Silverman and repeated what his mother, who was living in Russia, had told him: “Every time people spoke about the Jewish people as a unified nation, I never believed it. But when I saw this, a stranger, helping my son, it touched me deeply.”
The winter packages contain fleece jackets, handknitted wool hats, socks, long underwear, snacks, toiletries and more, each valued at about $30.
Additionally, every package contains four letters of encouragement written in English, Hebrew, Russian and Amharic. These letters are written by children and adults from around the world.
Each packing is done by a rotating group of 300 volunteers in Beit Knesset Hanasi, which donates space for the cause. During the Second Lebanon War, Bloom Silverman together with her volunteers packed and delivered more than 1,000 packages a day.
Over the last 10 years A Package from Home has packed and delivered 160,000 care packages. And now, teaming up with Anita and Roger Kamien, Bloom Silverman hopes the concert will raise funds for more packages, as well as for the organization’s respite program for soldiers who require long-term care.
Having performed a sell-out concert on behalf of A Package from Home a year ago at the Jerusalem Music Center, Anita Kamien was looking forward to another opportunity to help even more.
Bloom Silverman recalls that “During the first concert, there was excitement in the air. The concert was brilliant, and it was just magical.”
So how to improve? This time, Kamien has enlisted the entire Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
“The symphony has been very cooperative. Many of the musicians were new immigrants once themselves and can identify with the challenges of learning a new language and having children in the army,” says Kamien, who has a history of successful fund-raising events, having given benefit concerts in many of the 30 countries where she has performed with the orchestra and Roger.
The works to be performed are among the most popular of the Romantic repertoire: Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Schumann’s Piano Concerto; and Brahms’s First Symphony. Anita, founder of the Hebrew University Choir and Orchestra and the Jerusalem Chamber Philharmonic, is considered one of Israel’s finest female conductors; and Roger, a disciple of legendary pianist Claudio Arrau, coteaches with Murray Perahia at the Jerusalem Music Center.
“We’re very committed to the whole idea of helping the project. We have personally adopted many lone soldiers and had our two sons and daughter simultaneously in the army,” says Anita.
“A Package from Home is answering a need that is critical. Sometimes these soldiers come and have a dream and want to help Israel, but the actual stress of being here without families, having no one to do their laundry when they come home or feed them, is very difficult. Barbara’s passion is certainly felt by everyone who knows her, and I think she has made a difference in many of these soldiers’ lives.”
The concert is set to be a major event, and many lone and wounded soldiers will be on hand to listen to the Kamiens and the orchestra work their magic.
“The whole project is very inspiring,” says Kamien.
Thursday, November 11 at 8 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater, Henry Crown Auditorium. All proceeds benefit IDF combat soldiers and severely wounded soldiers. Tickets can be ordered at 1-700-70-4000.

For more information, visit www.apackagefromhome.org or call 050-810-8555.

The concert will be broadcast live on Israel Radio.