Mordy Botnick has ambitious Purim plans. One of the observances of the holiday is sending food gifts to friends. He plans to give out 1,000 packages in just 24 hours. To make things more complicated, his recipients are soldiers on military bases scatted all across Israel.

The good news is that he has help—lots of it. A cadre of volunteers will help pack the baskets and drive from base to base on Sunday, March 16, distributing the food packages, Purim spirit and good cheer as they go. Purim this year begins on Saturday night, March 15, and ends at sundown on March 16—or Sunday night and Monday in Jerusalem, as well as in other ancient walled cities that were standing at the time Joshua led the Israelites.

Further afield, Botnick has also enlisted the help of more than 20 Chabad centers around the world, whose members are sponsoring the gifts and encouraging their friends to do the same.

“These young people are standing at the forefront, guarding our Holy Land with their very lives,” says Rabbi Yisroel Mangel, director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose congregation is participating in the project. “On Purim, besides for sending food gifts to family and friends, we are enjoined to give gifts to the poor, sharing the holiday joy with those who have less. What better destination could there be for our food gifts than for these brave men and women?”

Botnick and his wife, Malkah Esther, who live in Jerusalem, co-direct an organization called Chayal el Chayal (“Soldier to Soldier”), which caters to the needs of “lone soldiers,” who have left their families in the diaspora to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. It all began when the native of Ottawa, Canada—who served as a sergeant in the IDF’s 97th battalion from 2009 to 2011—found himself without an invitation one week for a Shabbat meal.

“I called a friend and suggested that we chip in and host a meal of our own with some fellow soldiers,” he recalls. “Soon, we were hosting Shabbat meals on a regular basis, and the crowds just kept on coming.”

Attending to Their Needs

After his discharge and marriage, Botnick opened Chayal el Chayal to serve as a home away from home for soldiers going through similar experiences. The Botnicks’ three-story home in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood is an open drop-in center where soldiers can rest, do some laundry, grab a bite or simply feel at home.

Girls at the Montreal Torah Center write notes to lone soldiers to be delivered on Purim. (Photo: Montreal Torah Center)
Girls at the Montreal Torah Center write notes to lone soldiers to be delivered on Purim. (Photo: Montreal Torah Center)

In addition to their physical needs, Botnick also tends to the soldiers’ spiritual ones, supplying them with Torah literature, helping them don tefillin, and working to ensure that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are as homey and uplifting as possible.

The Botnicks were recently joined by Rabbi Ari and Rochel Shira Abramowitz, who opened their own home for lone soldiers nearby and have been directing the logistics of the IDF Purim Project.

Botnick is quick to stress that the project will be serving all soldiers on the bases he and his volunteers will visit, and not just “lone soldiers.”

In addition to edible goodies, each gift—packed in a handy thermos—will contain a personal letter or drawing from a child.

Lone soldier reads a note from abroad.
Lone soldier reads a note from abroad.

To date, hundreds of letters have been submitted by children in day schools, Hebrew schools and Jewish youth groups all over North America.

“We talked about how the soldiers are just a few years older than us, and are often in danger and perhaps feeling alone,” says Baily Shizgal, who led a dozen letter-writers at a teen group that meets at the Montreal Torah Center in Canada. “The girls really put their all into the letters, realizing that what they write could make a big difference in someone else’s life.”

In order to encourage young writers, everyone who submits a letter or drawing is entered into a weekly raffle for prizes ranging from a snow-cone maker to a child-friendly Book of Psalms.

Letters and donations can be submitted on the websites of participating Chabad centers or at:

Girls at the Montreal Torah Center express their gratitude. (Photo: Montreal Torah Center)
Girls at the Montreal Torah Center express their gratitude. (Photo: Montreal Torah Center)