A group of widows and their children from communities across southern Israel are enjoying a free one-week stay right now at a hotel in Jerusalem—and out of the constant barrage of Hamas rocket fire—as part of Colel Chabad’s Widows and Orphans Project.
The 30 women and 75 children are among nearly 300 single-parent families throughout Israel that Colel Chabad works with on a regular basis.
“When the rockets are falling, there is a lot of stress,” says Rabbi Menachem Traxler, director of volunteering at Colel Chabad. “These mothers can’t leave their kids alone to go to the bank or the market or the doctor because there is no one to watch them.
“Even without the rockets, it’s a tough life,” he continues. “Our social workers are in touch with them every day or two … and when this retreat came up, these women were the ones who needed it.”
The group’s stay at the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel began on Sunday with a welcome ceremony, where they shared stories about their experiences these past three weeks during “Operation Protective Edge,” the Israeli military action to halt Hamas rocket fire from Gaza and destroy terrorist tunnels.
“I had a rocket fall on my building … right before it landed, my upstairs’ neighbor went to the security room in the hallway. When he came out, he saw his apartment was destroyed,” Chana, a mother from Ashkelon, shared with the others.
“The truth is, I want to give up,” confided Esther from Ofakim. “It’s so hard and scary, but my kids won’t let me. They tell me I must have emunah, faith. Thank you so much for this getaway. Words cannot explain how grateful and appreciative I am.”
A mother and her young son at the Sunday event
To make it easier for the families to keep in touch on the retreat, a Colel Chabad worker helped the mothers sign up for the social-media application “WhatsApp.” With a quick group message sent via their phones, mothers can share their daily plans while at the hotel—be it some shopping, a trip to the zoo or a day in the park, notifying others so they could come along, too. No formal activities were pre-arranged.
Also spending time with the families is Colel Chabad director Rabbi Amram Blau and his wife, Yehudit, who staying with the group at the hotel. Blau was among the first to welcome the families to Jerusalem, urging them to relax and enjoy their time away.
Colel Chabad has picked up the tab for their stay for the entire week: “The hotel is fully paid for through next Shabbat,” says Traxler.
That generosity garnered more than a little bit of surprise upon the group’s check-in at the hotel. Rabbi Yitzchok Marton, program director for the Widows and Orphans Fund, recalls that when he went to arrange for everyone’s rooms, “one of the clerks at the hotel was amazed, saying, ‘You are paying for a whole week? For all of these families? They don’t have to pay a penny?’ ”
Rabbi Amrom Blau, director of Colel Chabad, announces a boy's birthday, complete with a slice of cake. Seated to his left is Rabbi Mendi Blau, director of Colel Chabad in Israel.
That kind of assistance has been at the heart of Colel Chabad since it was established by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe—the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi—back in 1788. Then, as now, its goal has been to help Jews throughout the land of Israel. Whether it’s a senior citizen who needs a hot kosher meal, a bride who can’t afford a dress for her wedding or a widow who needs money to pay for a babysitter, Colel Chabad works to provide the support needed to ease their burdens.
Rabbi Amrom Blau with a mother and boy grateful for the retreat
As the number of Israeli soldiers killed in battle continues to rise—and more women and children are left behind—the Widows and Orphans Project will try and meet their needs in ways they can.
“Usually, we are not in touch with families during the first month,” explains Blau. “Living in Israel, the support system is outstanding from neighbors. But after 30 days [the shloshim, the 30th day from burial of the deceased], when people start to get on with their lives, that’s when we get involved.”
Also, he notes, “not every widow needs our help because some have strong family support and handle things on their own.”
But for those who do require a helping hand, Colel Chabad is a lifeline.
Osnat, a participant from Ashdod on the Jerusalem retreat, proclaims: “You are a true example of ahavat Yisroel (‘love of Israel’). You give us hope, belief and faith.”
For information about Colel Chabad’s work with widows and orphans throughout the year, click here.
A Colel Chabad staff member helped the mothers sign up for the social-media application “WhatsApp,” so they can make plans to visit the zoo or park, do some shopping or simply get together to talk.