Soldiers dig in at a Grilling for IDF shindig. Photo: Courtesy.
Soldiers dig in at a Grilling for IDF shindig. Photo: Courtesy.
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Grilling for the IDF

Volunteers regularly cook up a storm to thank the warriors who keep them safe.

In 2020, North American immigrants Dave Kaplan, from Toronto, who runs a house painting business, and Elliot Auerbacher, from Englewood, New Jersey, who finances commercial real estate, decided to come up with a way to show their appreciation for IDF soldiers who work 24/7 keeping the people of Israel safe.

The two friends and neighbors from the central Israeli city of Modi’in decided to show their love for soldiers by bringing them food.

But instead of just snacks or candy, utilizing Auerbacher’s 20 years of experience in the catering industry, the two men founded a nonprofit organization called “Grilling for IDF.” This allowed the pair to treat the soldiers to top-notch barbeques wherever they are stationed in the country.

Since its founding, more than 100 BBQ events have been held, each month treating between 300 and 1,000 soldiers to a high-quality meal.

Kaplan told JNS, “We started ‘Grilling for IDF’ when one of my sons was doing miluim [reserve duty]. We thought it would be a good idea to go out to his base and show support for our soldiers on the front lines. We had heard that not all units had the best of foods and wanted to spoil them in a way that showed that general civilians cared about the service these men performed on behalf of our people.”

Auerbacher added, “We started in 2020 because we felt a need to give hakarat hatov [express gratitude] to the people who, because of their service and dedication, we are able to sleep comfortably in our beds at night.”

Grilling for IDF volunteers do their thing. Photo: Courtesy.

100 volunteers

So nearly every week, Kaplan and Auerbacher, along with some of the 100 volunteers who assist with food preparation, setting up the events, cooking, and serving the soldiers, head out and fire up the grills.

Kaplan said, “We have developed many army connections with various units over the years and generally, logistics officers get in touch with us to arrange the time and place where the BBQs will be hosted and how many soldiers to prepare for.”

He added, “There are bases that know us and host us frequently and there are neutral sites as well that we use to BBQ for the soldiers who cannot host us on their bases. We follow their leads so as to make the BBQ a successful event for all involved.”

Gila Ilana Wallach, a psychologist from Modi’in who is currently a stay-at-home mother and one of the organization’s volunteers, told JNS, “Grilling for IDF is important because we don’t just provide food for the soldiers, we provide morale and caring in a tangible sense. We are there and we make an effort to be there, to tell them how much we appreciate their sacrifices to keep our country safe.

“From the younger soldiers fulfilling their mandatory service, who are away from home for the first time, to the soldiers leaving their wives and children for weeks at a time in miluim, we go and tell them we care and appreciate [their sacrifice].”

She added, “One of the things that makes us special and different from other organizations is the human interaction, being there and providing a smiling and appreciative face for the soldiers. Grilling for IDF is different from other organizations that provide for soldiers because of the hands-on caring it shows. Our people, our families, go to the soldiers and serve them the food that we have prepared for them.”

Volunteers prepare to feed the warriors. Photo: Courtesy.

A family affair

The events have become a family affair, with her husband and children also serving as volunteers in all aspects of the barbecues, Wallach said.

Kaplan agrees that the BBQ is more than a meal.

“It is a show of support and a symbiotic learning experience for both the volunteers and the soldiers. The soldiers are generally in a state of disbelief that a group of mostly immigrants is spending time, resources, money all in their honor, and the volunteers are strengthened by the bravery and stories of sacrifice these warriors have for us,” he said.

Grilling for IDF has worked in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh and co-hosted several Israel Independence Day BBQs for hundreds of lone soldiers, those young men and women who serve in the IDF and are without any close family in the country who can help them.

Kaplan said all of their events “are funded through generous donations made through our website and individuals who see the important symbiotic work in strengthening men and women in the IDF.

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve these brave warriors who literally give their lives to protect us so we can sleep easy at night. The individuals who come out to give of their time are some of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever met. It is one of the most worthwhile organizations that really gives strength to our armed forces and our people,” he said.

“Every dollar raised goes towards showing our troops that there are those who are behind them and gives them an uplifting push to feel there are those willing to support them giving them a greater reason to be vigilant in our defense. It is an honor to be part of this lofty organization,” Kaplan said.

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