Respite for the Bereaved

Sing to Hashem, chant hymns to His name; extol Him who rides the clouds; Hashem is His name. Exult in His presence—the father of orphans, the Champion of widows, Hashem, in His holy habitation. Psalms 68.5 (The Israel Bible™)

Being a single mother is difficult enough. The stress of raising and providing for children alone can at times be overwhelming. This is only magnified when there is a cloud of grief looming over the household.

Unfortunately, for hundreds of families in Israel, this is the reality. A father and husband are sent to fulfill his duty to serve and protect his country, but he never comes back.

While grief is an acute one, life must go on, especially for the sake of the children.

Yahad: United for IDF Soldiers Wellbeing understands this. As a result, one of its flagship initiatives is providing summer camps not only for bereaved widows but for children who are longing to play and be heard.

The camps, held at the Village Recreation Committee for Soldiers outside of Hadera, offers a schedule of jam-packed activities for the women and children. Working in conjunction with the IDF’s Mador Nifgaim branch, the camps serve two purposes: Give the mothers a much-needed chance to relax and allow kids to be around others who have experienced the same grief.

“The goal is to give families and children a special experience with others who have also experienced loss,” Anat Gur, the marketing manager for Yachad said. “We give them time for fun, but they also have a chance to talk about their experiences.”

In other words, the camp provides a safe space for children and mothers to seek comfort from others who have been through similar experiences. And in doing so, they feel a little less different, a little less alone and very much cared for.

“At camp, they feel like an equal. They don’t feel different. There’s no reason to feel shame because everyone is going through the same thing,” Gur explained.

Take Yael (not her real name), for instance. The 35-year old mother of a 10-year-old girl lost her husband during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09. Her daughter, Hila, was only three and a half months old when her father fell in the line of duty.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come, but when I arrived and entered the dining room, I got a smile and a hug. Suddenly I felt that I was home. I’m comfortable. I allow myself to accept that this comfort is not something I will have on any other occasion,” Yael said while at the widows camp, which wrapped up late last month.

For Dana, a mother of an 11-year old son and 8-year-old daughter, she lost her husband eight years ago. Her daughter doesn’t even have a single picture with her father.

“So I just made her one. I put together a picture of her and her father before he was killed and now she has a picture with her dad,” she said with a far-away smile.

“The first time I came, I realized that I now belong to the bereaved family. It was very difficult.
No one understands us, but at these camps, we all have grief as a common denominator. We have all experienced the same loss,” she added.

For children, in particular, explaining and sharing that loss with friends at school can be uncomfortable, but in the Yachad camps, nothing is taboo and everyone feels free to express their hopes, fears, and dreams.

Sometimes, there’s comfort in not speaking at all and simply being surrounded by others who have also gone through the same nightmare.

But both the mothers and kids have fun, too. For children, they take part in bowling, go to the pool, amusement parks and the movies. The week, then, marks a time they can be free to be a kid again.

And considering many of these mothers can’t afford regular camp on a single income, Yachad provides kids with this unique summer experience they wouldn’t receive otherwise.

The children are also surrounded by camp counselors and IDF soldiers – many of them, too, have lost a parent as well.

“These counselors and soldiers provide a mixture of knowing what they’re going through and genuine empathy. They feel obligated to look after these kids. They do everything and foster a long-lasting connection with the kids,” Gur added. “I’m sure they appreciate seeing another soldier watching over them as a big-brother/big-sister figure – it’s very emotional to witness.

We are so appreciative of our generous donors from CZCA the Canadian Zionist Association for funding this special program. CZCA Canada, and generous donors from all over the world help make this and so many other programs a reality.

Yahad continues to be the leading organization in providing 100% welfare and wellbeing for IDF soldiers.

Yahad strengthens and cares for Israel’s soldiers, offering bereaved families counseling, retreats, social welfare, education, Jewish education, holiday celebrations, and more. Join our effort in bringing true comfort in the defense of Israel.

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Written in cooperation with Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers.