“It Helped Form an Integral Part of Who I Am Today”

IDF Orphan Ruth Goldfarb reflects on IDFWO’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah Trip to North America, which unfortunately didn’t take place this year due to the coronavirus crisis

“I was five when my father passed away. I remember that day vividly.” Ruth Goldfarb is one of thousands of orphans who lost a parent in the Israeli Defense or Security Forces. She continues, “my twin sister and I were in kindergarten and in the middle of the day my aunt picked us up and took us home. We were excited to leave early and that someone else had picked us up. All the way back we skipped and jumped… When we got home we were taken to our Mom. She was sitting on our bed, crying. When we came in, she hugged us tight and said Dad had passed away. Even though we were little, we knew Dad was sick; we had visited him in the hospital. We still didn’t understand the implications and what it meant, but from that moment on, we knew Dad wasn’t coming back.”

Ruth’s father was an officer in the Military Rabbinate, providing religious services for soldiers. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, but was diagnosed with colitis early in his service, which he probably got from a traumatic event. He was released from duty on disability, and studied economics at Bar Ilan University and spent some time as an exchange student in Germany. However, his disease persisted. After flying to London twice for a liver transplant, he passed away at the age of 50, leaving behind his wife and five children. Unfortunately, these kinds of stories are not uncommon in Israel. This is why the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization is so important.

The IDF Widows and Orphans Organization is a non-profit organization with a sister organization in Canada that was established in 1991 as the sole organization recognized by the State of Israel to represent the widows, widowers, and orphans of Israel’s fallen soldiers. Today, the organization works with over 8,000 women, men, and children who lost their loved ones in service to the state.

One of the important programs that IDFWO and IDFWO Canada work together on is the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Trip to North America for IDF Orphans. To celebrate this special milestone in a child’s life, all Bar and Bat Mitzvah-aged IDF orphans get to go on an unforgettable three-week trip to the United States and Canada, during which they enjoy summer camp activities, stay with host families, tour famous sites, and become friends with North-American kids their age.

Unfortunately, the trip did not take place this year because of travel restrictions imposed due to coronavirus restrictions. During these tough times, it is important to remember the incredible impact that IDFWO programs have on IDF widows and orphans, so that we can continue to support our widows and orphans throughout this period, and hopefully go back to providing them with our usual programs soon.

“I went to the Bat Mitzvah camp in North America and Canada when I was 11 and a half,” says Ruth. “It was one of the most significant experiences I had during my childhood, and helped form an integral part of who I am today. Although I traveled with my twin sister, we were the youngest and it was the first time we had spent so much time away from home without our mother to take care of us. We spent three unforgettable weeks full of fun and laughter, and enjoyed special attractions such as a visit to Niagara Falls, staying at a camp and participating in fun activities run by the counselors, staying with host families, having to speak English…I really matured during that trip and came back with high self-confidence.”

Ruth highlights the importance of this trip. The good relationship that the orphans have with their counselors is essential to their well-being and development, and being away from home for so long helps them gain confidence and self-awareness. Ruth made life-long friendships on this trip, and also made unique connections with her host-families and other people she met in Canada and the US.

Ruth’s involvement with the organization does not stop there. Though she is now 25 and in her last year of nursing school, working in a hospice center, and preparing for her nursing exams to get a certificate from the state, she has been dedicating her spare time to volunteering at the IDFWO’s Otzma Camps. In 2018, she went on the Bar and Bat Mitzvah Trip to North America for a second time, this time as a counselor. “Wow, it was an amazing experience. I felt like I was coming full circle and giving back some of the goodness I had received. I met the children I traveled with when they were still in elementary school, and got to know them even better during the trip and to see how wonderful and strong they are despite the difficulties they face. The group of counselors became a family, and we got to see day by day how the kids grew just as much as the smiles on their faces.” Working with kids comes easily to Ruth, and once she passes her nursing exams, she is thinking of going into pediatric nursing.

Esti Cohen has been very involved in the North America trip since its inception. She says, “as soon as I found out about the IDFWO organization, I didn’t think twice and agreed to do whatever I can to help the widows and the orphans of the IDF’s fallen soldiers. They died for their love of the country and fought to protect the Jewish people.” She has hosted IDF orphans for years, and has always given them a nice warm welcome. She continues, “I couldn’t have done it without the help of our generous loving Jewish community in Toronto who welcomes them every summer with open arms and lots of love.”

Ruth agrees that support from around the world is essential and meaningful. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. The hospitality, the donations, the warm words, all these and more are the things that make us orphans feel like there are people who think of us and are there to help in times of trouble. These are acts that can seem ‘small’ but in practice they have a lot of meaning and influence,” says Ruth.

IDFWO’s programs are essential to the emotional and financial well-being of the widows and orphans of Israel’s fallen. The organization’s overhead costs are covered by membership costs and subsidies from the Ministry of Defense, so you can show your support knowing that 100% of donations will go to the organization’s programming.

We hope that the children who were supposed to travel to North America this year will be given the chance to travel next year, so that they can experience this incredible, life-changing trip!

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