Expat Englewood pair opens Israeli home to soldiers

Expat Englewood pair opens Israeli home to soldiers

Beit Richman Chayal draws soldiers from around the world

Last November, Bat-Sheva Richman watched an Israeli news segment about the plight of “lone soldiers” unable to find or afford appropriate accommodations. Some of these 5,000 soldiers, either far from their home countries or lacking a stable home environment in their Israeli birth families, sleep outdoors during their time off.

By the time she turned off the TV, Richman knew this was the answer to her search for a charitable use for her villa in Kfar Yavetz, a religious moshav (cooperative community) in central Israel.

She and her husband, Stan, would open a free residence for lone soldiers to call home during their three years of service.

Never mind that the villa was rented out and would need renovation to house a group. Never mind that she had no idea how to find the soldiers. “When I’m determined to do something, I find a way,” said Richman during an interview at her Jerusalem home.

Sure enough, by the following July Beit Richman La’Chayal (Richman Home for Soldiers) welcomed its first residents. Five soldiers now use the villa as home base – free of charge – and there is room for seven more. The only requirement is that they must be non-smokers and observant of Shabbat and kashrut in keeping with the rules of the moshav.

Lone soldier status comes with higher pay, extra vacation days, and the services of several organizations that provide practical, social, and religious assistance. Quite a few foreign lone soldiers are billeted at kibbutzim and others find roommates or “adoptive” families. However, Richman discovered that not all these arrangements work out ideally.

“Some of them aren’t happy, and it’s hard for them to afford food and utilities,” said Richman. She took in “C” as soon as she had a mattress for him. Like three of the other men, C is a fighter in the Netzach Yehuda battalion for ultra-Orthodox (haredi) men. His family lives in Israel, but haredi soldiers often feel uncomfortable going home to parents and neighbors who strongly disapprove of participation in the Israeli army. C spent 49 straight days on base – unusual for IDF soldiers – until the battalion’s social services officer directed him to Richman.

An Israeli native whose family had arrived from Yemen via Operation Magic Carpet in 1949, Richman met her husband while at Hebrew University and returned with him to America. While living in Queens, Richman earned a degree in rehabilitation and school counseling, and the couple later spent seven years in Englewood with their four children. In 1991, when their oldest son finished The Frisch School in Paramus, they headed back to Israel.

Now a grandmother, Richman devotes much of her time to lone soldiers. During the months it took to move Beit Richman from dream to reality, she hosted holiday events for potential residents in her own home. “I am very good with parties,” Richman said with a smile. “My house in Englewood was the ‘party house.'”

Clearing hurdles presented by bureaucrats and an initially reluctant moshav board, she forged ahead with her plan. One of her seven sisters, Eti Navon, who had formerly managed a children’s residence, oversees the day-to-day operation. When the soldiers arrive on Thursday night, they know they will wake up the next morning to find Navon cooking and baking, ready for a chat.

“I contact each one every week to see how they are doing and to find out if they’re coming for Shabbat,” said the mother of three. “I come on Friday to sit and talk with them over coffee and cake, sometimes with my husband, and I arrange everything for Shabbat for them.”

On a recent Friday, she noticed that one of the young men was feeling low, and spent extra time with him. “They feel somebody cares,” she said. “It feels like home here.”

The families of the moshav quickly came to embrace the young men, and sometimes invite them for Shabbat meals, said “L.” “For me, Beit Richman is the right solution,” L said. “I’m the oldest in a large family, and I need a quiet place for weekends. I came to the Netzach Yehuda rabbi for a solution, and he told me to meet with Bat-Sheva.”

“T,” who coincidentally comes from the same New England town where Stan Richman grew up, had first tried living with relatives and then with a surrogate family. When neither worked out, he called Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that facilitates aliyah and helps new immigrants. Ellie Solimani, army and national service coordinator for NBN, directed him to Richman and is working to identify additional new immigrants who could benefit from lone soldier residence.

There are plans to open additional sites for non-religious lone male soldiers and for female lone soldiers. Fund-raising for these projects will soon be organized, along with an English-language site for www.beitrichman.org.

Stan and Bat-Sheva Richman Photo courtesy the Richman family
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