Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

UCF students show support for Israel's lone soldiers


February 15, 2019

Students selecting items to go into the lone soldier care packages.

Lone soldiers in Israel are going to be less lonely due to support from UCF students.

Back in November, a group of like-minded University of Central Florida students conceived of an idea to raise awareness on campus about the IDF's lone soldier program.  

According to the IDF's lone soldier website, "there are over 6,300 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF. About 45 percent of these soldiers are new immigrants, coming from Jewish communities all over the world. Another 50 percent are Israelis who are orphans or that come from low socio-economic backgrounds."

Each year, hundreds of UCF students travel to Israel where, depending on the provider they choose, they get to spend either four to 10 days with Israeli soldiers on their bus. This "mifgash" is a hugely impactful experience for both the soldiers, as it is for the participants. Often times, students return to campus thinking about those soldiers and how they might feel if they were trying to endure under the same circumstances.

One such student is Riley Shurack, a prominent student leader in the Pro-Israel community at UCF. Shurack attended a packaging event through UCF's premier pro-Israel student organization Knights for Israel nearly two and a half years ago. That event created over 60 care packages that were subsequently sent to lone soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. This year, through enhanced effort to engage the community, as well as greater student involvement, more than 200 care packages were created.

Student organizations like Mishelanu, a student organization for Israelis at UCF sponsored by the Israel American Council in Orlando, joined donors like the Rosen Hotel in donating materials and time to produce the gift packs. In addition, Mishelanu student leader Osher Ostroff, created a GoFundMe page to raise $1000 to cover the contents of the care packages, as well as the shipping fees to Israel. With the help of social media and word of mouth, they were able to surpass their goal, raising over $1,500.

Shurack shared: "I really wanted to give back to those who risk their lives everyday to defend the State of Israel. I wanted to make this event more meaningful than before, bringing together Knights for Israel, IAC Mishelanu, and Central Florida Hillel. I knew they would help in various ways and bring more awareness to the Greater Orlando Jewish community for a pro-Israel cause."

Supporting Shurack's efforts was Nirit Gelfer, Central Florida Hillel's Israel Fellow, a joint program of Hillel International and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Gelfer grew up in Israel and has been working closely with all of these organizations to help create successful events like this that raise awareness about life in Israel. Gelfer spoke at the event about the Michael Levin Center for Lone Soldiers, where the more than 200 packages are being distributed, and explained the goals of this Center which are bringing a sense of home to lone soldiers knowing that their families are not there to support them through the struggles of being a lone soldier with no local support system.

"From a personal perspective, I have such a special place in my heart for people who did not grow up in Israel and still choose to serve in the IDF," Gelfer stated. "I am thinking there is such a value in the students support and willingness to give. I found this event to be really meaningful, fun, and informative."

The same night, attendees were heard from Roni Weil, a lone soldier who had just finished her service in the IDF. Weil, who was born in Israel and moved to the states at age 5, stated that "returning to Israel wasn't an easy decision." Weil joined the IDF after graduating Winter Park High School through Garin Tzabar, an Israeli scout program for non-Israeli's making aliyah to serve in the IDF.

More than 200 care packages were put together for the lone soldiers.

"Many lone soldiers are actually Israeli," Weil mentioned. "Many Israeli's grew up in homes where the IDF was not accepted. Israelis who left their home before they could get support from the IDF. It's important to understand that as we prepare and send these packages, that we aren't just sending them to ordinary lone soldiers, but also to lone soldiers that don't have the same family structure that other soldiers from more typical family backgrounds enjoy"

Sharon Weil, Roni's mother, also attended the event, but had a different way of looking at it. "It was really special for me to see the community coming together to make packages for lone soldiers, especially as I remember my daughters being on the receiving end of those packages and how much they appreciated getting them and just knowing that someone cares out there."

To learn more about how you can support Hillel's efforts to support pro-Israel students, please contact Jennifer Waldholz, jennifer.waldholz@centralfloridahillel.org.


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