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Israeli soldiers light candles on the second night of Chanukah, at a staging area near the Israeli border with Syria, on Dec. 8, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers light candles on the second night of Chanukah, at a staging area near the Israeli border with Syria, on Dec. 8, 2023. Photo by Michael Giladi/Flash90.
featureIsrael at War

Israelis mobilize to bring the light of Chanukah to the troops

“Soldiers are aware of the importance of their mission, they know the stakes are high and while they can’t be home with their family, we still want them to enjoy Chanukah," says IDF Home Front Command Haifa district rabbi.

As Israel enters the third month of its war against Hamas, fundraising efforts to provide Israeli soldiers on the frontlines with the means to celebrate Chanukah have multiplied.

“We assisted a regiment of 350 soldiers in the south with candles, oil and menorahs to celebrate Chanukah, which they currently use every day,” Israel Magen Fund founder David Rose told JNS. 

Rose, whose organization otherwise focuses on providing tactical, security and medical equipment to first responders and security personnel, also helped organize the first Shabbat on the front.  

“During the first week of the war, I was approached by rabbis in the army who needed grape juice to organize kiddush for mobilized soldiers away from home,” said Rose. 

“I worked with the only manufacturer who used plastic bottles and sent 50 volunteers to distribute 3,500 grape juice bottles and havdalah kits along the northern border, all the way to Kiryat Shmona and beyond,” he added. 

The Israel Magen Fund has donated underwear, socks, batteries and flashlights to some 3,000 soldiers since the beginning of the war and is now focusing on protective rain gear, winter coats and thermal underwear as winter approaches.

“Whenever and wherever they need us, we will be there to help,” said Rose. 

Maj. Jacob, the IDF Home Front Command’s Haifa district rabbi, stressed the importance of Chanukah celebrations in maintaining morale.

“Organizing candle lighting and Chanukah events for soldiers who can’t celebrate with their family is crucial,” Jacob told JNS. 

“Soldiers are aware of the importance of their mission, they know the stakes are high and while they can’t be home with their family, we still want them to enjoy Chanukah with rabbis, performers, latkes and sufganiyot [donuts],” he added. 

An IDF soldier holding a menorah gifted by the Israel Magen Fund. Credit: Courtesy.

Some soldiers were even granted leave to spend the holidays with their families. 

“While their mission comes first, we are very attentive to the needs of our soldiers. What keeps them going is knowing that they will eventually go home, especially those who can’t see their family regularly,” said Maj. Jacob.   

Ahead of the holidays, many organizations gifted IDF soldiers menorahs, sufganiyot and care packages. 

Ezrat Achim, an organization in Beit Shemesh which during peacetime specializes in lending medical equipment to and cooking meals for the sick and elderly, as well as programs for children with special needs, expanded its focus to assisting IDF soldiers and displaced families since Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.

Over Chanukah, the organization launched a program in memory of Binyamin Airley, a 21-year-old soldier from Beit Shemesh who fell in combat in Gaza. Volunteers gave out over 1,800 menorahs and candles to IDF soldiers and Israelis displaced due to the war. They also delivered over 1,000 toys to the children of IDF soldiers and organized two carnivals and Chanukah parties on military bases for soldiers’ wives and mothers.

“It’s a huge operation. Just to deliver the toys we had to mobilize some 40 volunteers”, said Esther Wieder, the volunteer coordinator for Ezrat Achim. 

Maj. Jacob, IDF Home Front Command Haifa district rabbi, lights up a menorah on base. Credit: Courtesy.

Roladin, a well known Israeli bakery chain famous for its Chanukah sufganiyot, sent donut carts to soldiers stationed both in the north and the south.

“Chanukah is the holiday of miracles. This is the reason why, precisely at this time, Roladin has engaged in another exciting initiative for the soldiers and the evacuated residents,” read a statement from Roladin. 

The Roladin donut cart. Credit: Courtesy.

“Tens of thousands of donuts will be distributed using a cart which will move between different locations throughout the country, where a festive candle lighting ceremony will also be taking place,” the statement continued. 

Tami Varon, the mother of an IDF soldier who lives near Modi’in, was unable to spend the holidays with her son. She made it her mission to ensure that he did not miss anything. 

“I decided to send packages to him so that he feels that he has people rooting for him,” Varon told JNS. “He deserves to have something special for Chanukah. He is brave and courageous, he’s out there serving our country. He should have all that he needs to celebrate.” 

“And it’s not just him,” she continued. “I want to send packages to his whole unit. I am looking for someone to drive it there, otherwise I’ll just drive it myself. They are out fighting for our lives, it’s only fair that we do something for them in return in the spirit of Chanukah.”

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