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The Zionist Partnership at its Best:

Putting Thousands of Smiles on IDF Faces


By Jeff Daube

    One of the reasons why the Zionist enterprise has succeeded to the extent that it has is the intimate partnership that links the communities of Israel with the Diaspora. When people in Israel are in distress or under attack, when populations are in need yet neglected - it is always that partnership that reminds the afflicted that they are not alone.

So, for the weeks preceding Purim and on Purim itself this year, the Zionist Organization of America and the Orthodox Union, together with their Israel offices, embarked on a cooperative and massive campaign for the benefit of thousands of IDF soldiers, and the often forgotten communities of the South suffering through the terror of more than eight years of rocket fire from Gaza. Our many projects included a shopping trip to support the economically stressed communities of Sderot and Netivot; a Sderot merchants’ fair at the OU’s Israel Center in Jerusalem; the collecting of toys, dolls and games for hospitalized children; and letters from American and Israeli students to IDF soldiers.

The spirit of cooperation between our two organizations was amplified by assistance and activities sponsored by Emunah Women, the American Israeli Action Committee, The Great Synagogue and Beit Knesset Shir Chadash. It would be most gratifying to see this joint venture - all conducted as a labor of ahavat Yisrael, love for Israel - serve as a model for many more inter-organizational initiatives such as ours.

The centerpiece of our campaign featured the delivery of 4,000 Mishloach Manot to delighted soldiers at numerous army bases throughout Israel. This project actually began nine years ago when Rubin Margules, a member of ZOA’s national board and president of ZOA’s Brooklyn Region, started to donate his own resources, time and energy, aided by generous individual donations. Each year, subsequently, Rubin would travel to Israel spending hectic days running from base to base, and presenting Mishloach Manot and touching letters of gratitude from American students; he could just as well have taken a relaxing vacation, lounging around poolside at some cushy resort. At each base, Rubin would thank the soldiers for their dedication to defending the State of Israel and their sacrifices, as well as for all they do for Jews around the world. Thousands of soldiers, unable to spend the Purim holiday with their families, greatly appreciated this vital gesture from Rubin and the many Diaspora donors he would represent year after year.

For this and all of Rubin’s other good works on behalf of Israel, Rubin would surely get my vote for inclusion in the as-yet-unwritten volume, Profiles in Contemporary Zionism. He is already planning a major campaign next year to mark his tenth Purim/IDF anniversary, and hoping to mobilize enough support to distribute 10,000 Mishloach Manot. And if I know Rubin he will, with everyone’s help, reach his tenth anniversary goal.

I was privileged by this campaign to be exposed to not one but two candidates for prime places in the Zionist paean. Menachem Persoff, the Program Director at the OU’s Israel Center, was already planning a battery of Purim projects to benefit the challenged residents and youngsters of the South when he invited me to one of the planning meetings. Only as this joint process unfolded did I come to understand and appreciate his unassuming and unwavering commitment to helping those in distress.

Menachem remarkably pulled together the various elements of our multifaceted campaign in three short weeks. My admiration for him and Rubin only increased by orders of magnitude when I came to realize why they stressed the importance of allowing as many people as possible to participate in as many ma’asim tovim as possible, despite the fact that it added additional layers of organizing for us. The sight of our 300 volunteers joyously packing 1,600 of the 4,000 Mishloach Manot, plus the sheer delight of those who accompanied us on buses as we traveled from base to base for the actual distribution, confirmed for me why Menachem and Rubin had emphasized maximum participation.

The second day of our three day mission culminated in two very special pre-Purim parties in Kiryat Gat and Sderot, the latter taking place in a bomb shelter together with the youth of the OU’s own Makom Balev program. Both Rubin and Stan Hillelsohn, Chairman of the OU Israel Commission, delivered moving messages to the youth about how important mutual efforts of support are across the entire Jewish spectrum, and thanked them for remaining strong in the face of so many challenges.

The youth of Makom Balev also played another important role, distributing the hundreds of games, toys and dolls collected by shuls and other institutions in and around Jerusalem for children in hospitals throughout the South. The network of packers, distributors and shlichim seemed to grow almost exponentially as the presents piled up and funds from generous donors abroad increased.

Next year will be Rubin’s tenth anniversary IDF Mishloach Manot campaign. He is now  planning to break all records as he shoots for the 10,000 Mishloach Manot mark. Menachem and I are already thinking about how we can make this happen, and I am sure you will help Rubin bring 10,000 smiles to the faces of our incredible soldiers. I know I speak for the OU’s Stan Hillelsohn and Menachem Persoff as well as Rubin Margules of ZOA when I say, please make our task that much more challenging next year by donating generously to this campaign when called upon…and, by the way, if you are in the neighborhood, please join us for Mishloach Manot packing, or come along to help distribute them at the IDF bases. You will have the time of your life!

    Jeff Daube, Director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Israel Office, made aliya last year and can be contacted at jdaube@zoa.org