For millennia wives and mothers have followed armies to insure that the soldiers were fed. I remember studying the American Revolution with my children and learning how each state’s regiments were sent bushels and baskets of food from home…. especially during the long winter at Valley Forge. Some regiments feasted regularly. Most had only the most meager of supplies.
In the IDF, when they are not in the field, the soldiers are fed institutionally in dining rooms. My husband and I volunteer on a base once a week and are served breakfast and lunch with the soldiers. All is strictly Kosher with separate dairy kitchens for breakfast food preparation and clean-up. And a separate meat kitchen for lunches and some dinners. Blue plates and cups are dairy; red is used for meat consumption.
In the morning a typical breakfast consists of hard boiled eggs, bread and jam; a cup of yogurt, sour cream (skee or labeneh). There is ALWAYS a plate of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, an Israeli staple. On good days, there is shakshuka, a delicious spiced tomato sauce dish with eggs on top. Plus there are vanilla and chocolate pudding cups.
The lunches always feature a hot soup in the fall/winter. Plates of pickled vegetables, olives,cold beets, and cucumber and tomato salad are always on the table. We are served a meat (baked chicken, schnitzel, beef stew, kabob…. a ground beef patty with spices,) and a starch – pasta, rice or roasted potatoes. A piece of fresh fruit for dessert balances the meal.
Two years ago, Pesach, I was called by Bonnie Rosenbaum from the Lone Soldier Center in honor of Michael Levin. Would I be able to prepare seven extra Passover meals for soldiers at a Northern outpost? The challenge was on and I made bento box style dinners for a Seder complete with the elements for the Seder as well as gefilte fish, charoset, brisket, potato roses and cartons of matzah crack and matzah granola for treats. Each bento box had a Haggadah, candles and a bottle of grape juice. It was such an honor and so much fun!
Last year for Thanksgiving, we hosted 17 Lone Soldiers from the States serving a complete basari meal of turkey (special ordered a month in advance), stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings.
Each Chanukah I make treat bags filled with Chanukah cookies, sweets and local cafe gift cards to distribute to the troops in gratitude for their service. It makes for a fun outing, and the kids are always so appreciative.
So, this year for our son’s birthday, we decided to do something really special. We had heard about parents bringing dinners to the kids on base. Max has quite a few Lone Soldiers in his unit. Kids who come here alone to serve in the IDF. From the US, UK, Mexico, France, South Africa, all over. Being summer, I thought what could be better than an all-American style barbecue??? We grilled chicken and tri-tip(asado here), made baked beans, roasted corn on the cob, potato salad, peanut cole slaw, watermelon, and chocolate cake.
Little did we know, but as a birthday present, Max’s commander gave him the day off. Only in Israel! I love it!!! So he came home, showered and changed into his civvies, and we took a truckload of food up to the picnic area just outside his base. It was great meeting all his friends again. A couple of his army friends on leave also showed up in their street clothes. Those who could leave for an hour, joined us from their jobs on base. We took our dachshund pup, which the kids loved as well. All of the soldiers we’ve met from his unit have been the sweetest kids.
Since then, I’ve talked with several parents of chayalim who shared great personal experiences taking food to the troops. One group of moms alternate taking a beautifully prepared Shabbat dinner to their sons’ brigade every three weeks. There are groups of parents who make big barbecues for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. I found out one mom put together a whole cupcake party for her daughter’s all-female unit. They loved it!
Some other stories are more exciting. During Operation Protective Edge, the war with Gaza, four years ago, not only parents, but civilians came out in droves to bring hamburgers, falafel, pizzas and treats to the troops nearest the action. People were risking their own personal safety as rockets were being fired continuously into Southern Israel, to keep the soldiers well-fed. Grandmas and Grandpas were out with huge trays of food on the side of the road as close as they could get to soldiers returning from the front.
A company was started by. Mordechai Beasley called Pizza 2 Give. Their mission statement is:
“I.D.F soldiers work night and day protecting Israel’s border. Meanwhile restaurants in border areas suffer. Through “Pizza 2 Give” you can put a smile on soldier’s face, and help a small business owner at the same time.
You can make a difference!”
I just love this concept! They can be reached at pizza2give.com. That way you can be anywhere in the world and be able to send fresh, hot pizzas to the troops- all Kosher too!
And I understand there are bakers here in Israel that make special birthday cakes which can be delivered to the base.
But my favorite story of all has to be this one, the story of two brothers serving during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza 2008-2009. The oldest brother was boots-on-the-ground fighting with his unit to prevent terrorist infiltration into the nearby Israeli communities. It was his birthday. The younger brother was working in logistics. His job was to receive the requirements of each individual fighting unit; compile a single brigade ‘shopping list;’ draw the materials from the warehouses and have them sent to the front lines. On the appropriate day, the younger brother convinced the army cooks to make a special cake for his older brother. It was packed in together with the helmets, ammunition and other supplies ordered – a grand birthday surprise indeed!
So, we will continue to help out in any small way we can. I brought cereal and marshmallows from the States to make Rice Crispy treats, a treat you just can’t get here. We’ll do more cook-outs at the picnic area adjacent to my son’s base. And we’ll bring games: Set, Catan, SpyFight & Uno. And the dog. And music. It’s a great way to thank these kids, give them a break and support, and in some instances, a small taste of home. Besides, Thursday nights dinners on base are notoriously awful!!!!