By Rabbi Reuven Reich
In the wake of the harrowing Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel, the importance of unity, support and resilience has never been more critical. Jeff Seidel has found himself in the midst of this turmoil, not as a bystander but as an active participant in the ongoing battle and recovery efforts, while also continuing his outreach and regular programming. It became his foremost mission to extend aid and comfort to those who need it most—the brave soldiers and affected families from the southern and northern communities.
Jeff’s recent endeavors have led him into the heart of Israel’s military bases, spanning from the south to the north, in the West Bank, and just a mere meter from the Gaza and Lebanon borders. There, the aim is to establish meaningful connections with our soldiers who are selflessly risking their lives to protect our nation and the Jewish world. It’s not just about being there; it’s about making a difference for our soldiers.
Through the Asher David Milstein Initiative, Jeff has been organizing army base barbecues for the soldiers, which have become opportunities for them to unwind and for the volunteers to speak with them, hear their stories, and amplify their voices. At these events, Jeff is easily recognizable in his Minnesota Vikings hat, a personal token of appreciation and a nod to the sports team for their kind donations to some of the army units. The stories of the remarkable soldiers are nothing short of incredible. Many of them were at the frontlines on that fateful Oct. 7, confronting the terrorists face-to-face and reclaiming control over the kibbutzim. Today, they are continuing to fight in some of the most hostile regions, placing their personal lives on hold to safeguard our country. Many have been in battle for months on end, with these barbecues being the first real meals they have eaten since the war began. Moreover, the team has brought in some of Israel’s most beloved singers to perform for the troops, including artists such as Gad Elbaz, the Solomon Brothers and Shlomo Lipman. These moments of sharing, exchanging stories, and mutual support continue to serve as a much-needed morale booster for our troops. Jeff’s team has also been instrumental in procuring tefillin and tzitzit for the soldiers, as well as Shabbat and Chanukah candles—small but significant gestures that resonated deeply with them.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Jeff received a phone call from a group of soldiers who were stationed in Gaza and desperately seeking a place for Shabbat once they were released. Without hesitation, he found them a home to go to for a warm meal and a moment of respite.
Jeff is currently working towards organizing a special Shabbat dinner at one of the border kibbutzim, specifically for soldiers stationed in Gaza and the south of Israel. This event is designed to be more than just a meal; it will be a symbol of unity and gratitude, an opportunity for soldiers to experience the warmth and comfort of a traditional Shabbat amid their challenging duties. This is in addition to the regular Shabbat dinners that Jeff arranges for students throughout Israel, an initiative that has been ongoing and successful for decades.
Aside from his work with the soldiers, Jeff has been regularly visiting the kibbutzim in the south that were profoundly impacted by the tragedy. He had the opportunity to interview individuals who provided firsthand accounts of the horrific events they endured. These accounts play an instrumental role in his hasbara efforts, providing an accurate narrative of what transpired on that dark day. It is Jeff’s goal to share these accounts with his students, alumni and young people in general, empowering them with factual information and bolstering their confidence to stand up for Israel’s truth.
Additionally, Jeff has been instrumental in organizing a learning program for individuals and families who have been relocated from their homes in the north of Israel. The program involves classes on Judaism held one to two times a week at their hotels. These sessions are not just educational; they’re a source of community and resilience. Through this initiative, Jeff and his team have fostered strong relationships with those affected, providing them with a sense of normalcy and connection to their Jewish heritage.
The response seen from both the soldiers and the affected communities has been outstanding. It’s these moments, these experiences and these newly formed relationships that drive the commitment to supporting them further.
Jeff’s relief efforts are showing no signs of slowing down. He is steadfast in continuing his mission to offer comfort, support and a sense of unity to those in need as well as those who bravely defend our nation. He is always open to and looking for assistance in the relief efforts, believing that together we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by the tragedy and show our unwavering support.