Israel's war widows and orphans

An inside look into the IDFWO, the organization in charge of the unsung heroes of the State of Israel.

Contact Editor
Larry Gordon,

Military funeral (illustrative)
Military funeral (illustrative)
Hadas Parush/Flash90

They are too easily pushed off of center stage and out of our consciousness. We commiserate and empathize with their situations but all too soon, sometimes just a day or at best a few days later, unfortunately, their plight is less pressing and sometimes we even forget about them.

The way their lives have shockingly and dramatically changed never goes away. But somehow they bravely go on. They are unsung heroes of Israel and the Jewish people. They have made the greatest sacrifice that a person can make and go on to live and talk about it.

They are Israel’s war widows and orphans.

So let me digress for a moment. Over the course of the year, the 5TJT receives many requests from individuals, organizations, institutions, publicists, public relations companies, and others about helping to promote a plethora of ideas, subjects, and causes. Space and time limitations dictate that we apply some selectivity, of course.

Not everything turns into a feature story. Sometimes the matter or subject warrants a press release, a photograph, or even less than that. And over the years without listing them—because it is a fairly significant list—we have written about, covered, and sang the praises of many such groups, both small and significant.

But then a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a PR person in Israel to ask if I would be willing to meet some of the leadership of the Israel Defense Force Widows and Orphans organization. It was impossible to decline such an offer and opportunity and I wondered why I had never heard of them before.

Through the good offices of Avi Hyman in Israel, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with the chairperson of the IDFWO last week here in our offices in Cedarhurst.

At first I thought that I would be hearing about an upcoming dinner or event that required some promotion or newspaper space. But instead, they presented the very human side of what life is like after a husband, father, son, or daughter is lost in war.

Visiting my office on that day last week was Nava Shoham Solan, the chairperson of IDFWO. I’ve done stories about Lone Soldiers, heroes of the IDF, rabbis in the army, Nachal Chareidi, Thank Israeli Soldiers, and so much more. But Nava Shoham is the story of Israel that we know all too well but that we just do not think about enough.

She is in my office with Yuval Lipkin, the CEO of the organization, and Yakov Solan. And since we do not know each other and I’m not sure who she is and what we are really supposed to speak about, we make some small talk about her trip to the U.S., how long she has been here, how much longer she is staying, and where she has visited so far.

Then she just says to me calmly and nonchalantly, “Let me tell you my story.” She was just 17-years-old when she married Ronen Shoham. In 1982, when the first Lebanon War broke out, her husband was a paratrooper sent into battle. He had already completed his army service but was called up with the reserves.

He was killed in a battle near Beirut and Nava was left at age 25 with two children, a six-year-old and a seven-month-old. “The pain of the loss was beyond description,” she says. “I never thought this could happen to me and my family.”

And that is true of any family in Israel that experiences this kind of loss. In speaking to Nava and others in the past, I have noticed an almost steely type of courage that they develop to deal with the shock of the loss and the ensuing pain.

Though not so well known—at least not yet in our communities—the IDFWO has been around for decades. They were there for Nava and many of the families of the 23,000 men and women who have died in Israel’s wars since 1948.

Today, Nava, explains, the group is there with the family from the moment they are notified that you have lost a loved one who was a member of the service in Israel. “We provide a shoulder for them to lean on, we are with them every step of the way through this traumatic transition, and we are there for the children,” she says.

We celebrate those who are serving with great courage in the IDF and I recall recently attending an event here in the Five Towns a few weeks ago that paid tribute to Israel’s wounded soldiers. An important Day of Remembrance precedes Israel Independence Day every year. But there really isn’t anything that deals with the emotional hole and scar that a family deals with after experiencing the loss of a family member in battle.

And it’s not limited to losses in battle either. Once a young man or woman has served, their families qualify and are eligible for services from the IDFWO.

Nava Shoham brings to my attention the recent case of Aharon Benita Bennett. Do you remember the name? Benitta Bennett was a Chassidic young man from Beitar Ilit just outside of Jerusalem. He was walking with his wife, pushing his small child in a baby carriage through a part of the Old City—an area known as the Moslem Quarter—where under normal and usual circumstances people tend to frequent. It was Chol Hamoed Sukkos. He and his wife were stabbed by an assailant and the baby was injured too. Aharon’s injuries were fatal. A Moslem Quarter resident and a reserve officer in the IDF, Nechemia Levi, was also killed by the terrorist as he tried to save the Bennetts.

When Ms. Shoham tells me that the IDFWO is working with his widow, I stop her and say that I thought IDFWO was just for those who are survived by IDF members or those in the extended security services, including police. She informs me that Bennett was in an IDF training program. He was being taught to work in technology that would also prepare him for employment after his military service was done.

Ms. Shoham says that in the aftermath of the summer 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, 11 new widows joined IDFWO and 25 new orphans are being served by the organization now as well. A talk with several of the orphans from last year was featured in the September 2015 issue of the organization’s magazine, “Together.”

“I am used to my father not being here,” says nine-year-old Amiad in a soft voice. “He was in the army a lot and now I think it’s as if he is in the army and he will come back in a little while.” Shira, eight, says that her father is not here, but he is with her. “Despite the fact that no one sees him,” he sees me,” she said.

Today there are over 7,500 widows and orphans signed onto the IDFWO. The assistance and services they provide runs the gamut. There are holiday programs for the kids and week long summer camps that are enjoyed by the children which also provides some respite for the mothers.

Other notable programs include the widows who call on other widows program and the older orphans—from wars gone by—who mentor and work with younger orphans.

The entire annual budget for the organization is $3 million and they apparently accomplish quite a lot as well as benefit large numbers of peoples who need and are dependent on them being there for them.

They were here in New York last week for the purpose of raising the profile of the organization and hoping that new supporters will be identified that will help them in their effort to assist those who need them.

It is an impressive group that does vital work, helping to keep families in Israel together after experiencing the shock associated with a loss of a loved one.

Nava, Yuval, and Yakov are outstanding individuals who deeply feel the pain of others and understand what the widows and orphans are experiencing. I asked Nava about her children who grew up without their father. She was reluctant to say and asked me not to use her son’s name who today is a pilot in the Israel Air Force.








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