“May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” (Psalm 144:12)
For more than 300 children from around Israel, the idea of a happy Hanukkah following the loss of a parent might have seemed like an impossibility. But through the generosity of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running social services organization, that is just what is occurring this holiday in Jerusalem. One hundred widows and three hundred children were invited to a three-day fully subsidized getaway at a Jerusalem hotel, including an extensive entertainment and travel program to help them get their minds off their personal losses and enjoy Hanukkah like any other family.
Among the children were many who had lost fathers in the line of duty or in terror attacks and sadly the number of participants in this annual program is on the rise. Now in its 12th year, the Chessed Menachem Mendel program is one of many run by Colel Chabad, which was founded in 1788 by the first Rebbe of the Lubavitcher Chassidic movement, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, with the goal of supporting the welfare needs of the community in the Holy Land. Colel Chabad runs a year round assistance for widows and orphans whereby the provide food, clothing and social services for close to 300 widows and more than 750 orphans annually. Tutors and social workers help monitor the child’s education and development and career counseling, training and loans provide needed assistance for the parents.
The group gathered at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel spanned the entire range of the religious and non-religious spectrum. The one uniting factor was the sense of family and comfort knowing these children and mothers are among people who truly understand what they are going through.
“Our vision as an organization is to look beyond the instant solutions and come to assist people in those moments where the rest of the world might be busy celebrating on their own,” said Rabbi Amram Blau, Educational Director of Chessed Menachem Mendel. “We know that when these children, widows and widowers are given the attention they deserve, it allows them to celebrate the holidays with a sense of respect.”
The highlight of the three-day getaway was a nighttime celebration filled with candle lighting a six-foot Lego chanukiya built by the children, dancing and doughnuts. One donor who recently moved to Israel from the United States heard about the program the day before it began and decided on the spot to donate gifts for each and every one of the children. Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad mobilized his network and immediately set out to buy the gifts, wrap them and prepare them to be presented to the 300 children.
One mother, who had lost her husband in battle in last year’s Operation Protective Edge looked on with tears in her eyes and her children danced and opened their gifts. “This program reminds us of the good that there is in the world and allows my children to know that even while their father can’t be here there are others in the world who also care for them.”