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Burgers on the braai: SA olim rally to help



South African olah Lili Kovler, who lives in Jerusalem, felt paralysed with fear and sadness when in the wake of the 7 October massacre, her Israeli husband was called up to serve in the war.

Kovler was 30 weeks pregnant, now 32 weeks, and she and her husband hoped he could wait until after their baby was born, but in the end, he had no choice but to join his unit. At first, Kovler didn’t know what to do with herself and was in shock about the massacre and her husband having to leave her.

But then she took a tiny step that changed everything and helped her to function: she decided to help others. It started with her husband saying that his unit needed more water. Kovler and her father-in-law put a plan into action to help them. That snowballed quickly into a massive effort to get food, gear, and essential items to soldiers. Kovler even joined forces with other olim to bake gluten-free goods for soldiers suffering from Celiac disease who had been unable to eat the food provided on the base.

“I’m crowdsourcing and funding donations for all the needs of the soldiers,” she says. “We work directly with the commanders and provide exactly what they ask us for. This can range from dry goods to first aid, toiletries, and basic tools. It’s important to note that everything needs to be army approved, and we aim not to waste anything if it hasn’t been specifically requested and approved. My father-in-law drives up and down the country all day to make the deliveries personally, and we have a network of young guys donating time to help us with deliveries.” “It’s hard to explain how I’m doing – this all seems so unreal and so sad,” she says.

But she’s grateful to be able to do something to help, along with family, friends, and strangers. Kovler is one of thousands of South African olim reaching out to their fellow Israelis, and for many of them, it has been their greatest coping mechanism amidst the devastation and darkness the country has endured.

“I’m an ex-South African living in Otef Aza [the Gaza-surrounding area] on moshav Talmei Yosef,” says Sarah Fleisch. “Our moshav wasn’t infiltrated, but they came within a few hundred meters of our gate. I came on aliya many years ago. We spent the first day of the Hamas attacks in our safe room with our four daughters and nine grandchildren, and my 89-year-old mother. On Sunday afternoon [8 October] all our children and grandchildren and my mother evacuated on their own [without support from the government or army] and at their own expense, and they haven’t been back since.

“My husband, who is ex-Zimbabwean, and I are still at home. People ask me why I haven’t left. It’s simple: here I can find things to do to help, like making food for the soldiers sitting in the moshav or doing their laundry – a minimum of four loads a day – or anything that keeps me active. If I leave, where would I go, what would I do? I’d be worried and anxious all the time, feeling helpless and useless.”

Oleh Mathew Cohen, who lives in Tel Aviv, says, “On the first two days, I donated money and food to a restaurant in Tel Aviv where the staff decided to cook for soldiers. Afterwards, I found out about a shul in my area that was looking for volunteers. We’ve been helping to pack supplies for mothers and babies living in Sderot as well as equipment, food, clothing, and toiletries for soldiers going south.

“It feels fulfilling to do something like this, especially after the depression and anxiety that followed Saturday’s horrific attack,” says Cohen. “Helping out felt necessary as we look to uplift our nation.”

“We’re making 500 burgers a day, feeding the guys who aren’t in base but in the fields,” says olah Nicci Raz. She has joined forces with other South African olim in the Ra’anana area, drawing on their South African Jewish heritage of helping others at the toughest of times as well as their love of a good braai.

“We got a call on Sunday morning [8 October] from one of the guys in the field saying that they hadn’t eaten and asking if we could organise 500 burgers to be ready and delivered by 11:00,” says Raz. “So we organised the patties and then a few South African families just took out their braais and started braaiing the burgers and packed them.”

Soldiers do get fed, she says, but “they are trying to keep up with the influx of volunteers and reservists. When you have an injection of 300 000 people to the front lines, it takes time to set up logistics. People all over Israel are supplementing with delicious food, cakes, and personal supplies. That’s where communities are rallying.”

After their first round of burgers, they thought, “This is going to be a long-term thing, and everyone is trying to do what they can. Why don’t we see if we can raise money and confirm that we can do 500 burgers for whoever needs them every single day?

“That’s what we did. Because they had to be kosher, we organised a restaurant in Ra’anana to give us their premises, and some volunteers came every day to help pack. We’ve raised enough money to do this for the next week, and we’ll be doing it every single day. We hope to continue in the weeks ahead,” Raz says.

The mayor of Ra’anana, Chaim Broyde, even took time to join the initiative, now called “Burgers for the Frontline”. Everyone pitched in, with children applying tomato sauce in the shape of Magen Davids. Kids also wrote letters of support to the soldiers, and Raz shared pictures of soldiers receiving the letters and enjoying their burgers in the field. “Every bit counts!” was the response from one soldier.

Raz emphasises that this is just one initiative among many. “It’s not only us, there are so many people doing incredible work. This is just one story. Every person I know is involved in something – no-one is sitting at home. They are either calling families to offer emotional or financial support, or they are collecting and buying the items needed. For example, my friend is a hairdresser. She went to a hotel to help ladies there that had fled their homes. It’s incredible, I could go on all day. I thought I understood Zionism before, but the way the Jewish world has come to protect our home right now is astounding.”

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