'Hug in a box'
Israeli grandma's project sends care packages to IDF soldiers
by Tamara Stokes
Barbara Silverman does something many bubbes do when family members are away from home. She worries, prays and sends care packages. Not ordinary, confection-filled care packages, but packages that contain staples to sustain Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
Silverman was in Dallas this week to bring her message to the Jewish community.
Two-and-a-half years ago, the Chicago native and her husband, Marvin, struggled with their own fears when the Intifada began more than two years ago.
"What can we do?" Silverman asked her husband. "We're old, and have limited resources and space, but we need to something comforting to help these soldiers."
Her program, A Package From Home, began out a desire to help part of her Jewish family and the families of those she knew who had children and grandchildren serving in the military, said Silverman, who's lived in Jerusalem for the past 30 years.
Speaking Monday morning at Wise Academy, she said, "We started with a list of 50 names telling people what we wanted to do, and they, in turn, sent my message to their e-mail lists."
"The first candy store I visited to solicit on behalf of my cause resulted in a sad surprise," recalled Silverman, whose local trip was coordinated by Rabbi Debra Robbins of Temple Emanu-El. "As I was telling the owner my mission and how I needed help getting candy for troops, the man began to cry and said his own son had been killed in the war."
To this day, that store donates and discounts candy for the cause.
The next vendor, who sold stockings, also lost a child to the war.
In fact, she said, all the shopkeepers in Jerusalem have photos of their own loved ones up on their walls as a reminder of the constant and important fight to preserve Israel and to dispel terrorism.
"We [the shop owners in Jerusalem and A Package from Home] are dependent upon one another and everyone feels good about this project," said Silverman. "Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Jewish people."
Silverman told the students how each package contains things soldiers can use while out in the field: anti-fungal socks, T-shirts, long underwear, caps, fingerless gloves and kosher candies. The most important, however, are the letters letting the soldiers know how much they are appreciated.
Silverman said that as word of her project spread, people worldwide began to participate and send packages, money and letters. She calls the letters "waves of love" from across the oceans that provide a source of inspiration. Soldiers plaster their walls and ceilings with the letters and they serve to remind them how much they are appreciated for the difficult and dangerous jobs they are doing.
Until six months ago, she tried to contain the project in her two-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem, but now, she is working with the Israeli army, navy and air force for each unit to pick up its own packages.
What began as a service for 50 families has resulted in more than 47,000 packages and a nonprofit budget of almost $150,000. Silverman said the best way those outside of Israel came help is through monetary donations because postage and duty fees can sometimes be more valuable than the contents. For example, she said, a package sent from Hawaii cost $100 to mail to Israel and then $100 for duty fees. She said the $200 could have been put to better use and provided more than one package.
Silverman has two more reasons to continue with this "hug in a box" mission. Her own grandchildren are serving or about to serve in the Israeli armed forces. One, Oded Lang, has a dangerous job, serving with a brigadier general, she said, and her project helps her fight her nagging worries -- at least during the day.
Silverman is concentrating on her fund-raising and hoping the Israeli economy turns around for her suppliers.
For those who can't come to Israel and enjoy the "transforming experience" so many others have connecting to their Jewish culture and heritage, she suggested they please show support with a letter (even e-mail) and a donation.
To find out more about A Package From Home, visit the Web site at www.APackageFrom
This story was published in the DallasJewishWeek
on: Thursday, May 1, 2003