Noah Herskovitz, a ”-year-old combat engineer in the U.S. army’s 3rd Infantry Division, now stationed outside Baghdad, felt a bit uncomfortable receiving so many more care packages than the other members of his unit.
Nearly 100 volunteers turned out to stuff care packages for soldiers in Iraq.
"He told me he was getting self-conscious," said his mother, Linda Herskovitz, a member of Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, who has had sons serve in both the U.S. and Israeli military. "On one hand, I was proud of the Jewish community for reaching out to Jewish soldiers; on the other, I felt that it wasn’t right that the others weren’t getting anything. They’re doing the same job."
To rectify the situation, she resolved to send a package to each of the 77 soldiers in her son’s unit. But after she mentioned her plan to shul president Pam Scheininger early this year, another idea took root, leading to participation by the entire synagogue.
On Sunday, Netivot Shalom congregants, together with student volunteers from the Frisch School as well as other members of the community adults and children gathered at the synagogue to assemble what Scheininger described as "substantial" care packages.
"We even have extras left over," she said, noting that in a short time, the volunteers collected or bought large quantities of candy, cookies, powdered drink mix, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, and basic tools.
Noah Herskovitz at work, as the gunner in a tank unit.
"We were glad to find a substantive way to support the brave soldiers serving in Iraq," said Weininger. "The personal connection stemming from the fact that one of our congregant’s sons is in the unit makes the project even more meaningful. The response from the congregation and the community at large has been overwhelming."
"I’m still smiling," said Herskovitz, noting that some 100 volunteers turned out to help stuff the packages. "I was very surprised at the numbers, and degree of support, we received." In addition to filling boxes, volunteers, mostly children, wrote letters and drew pictures for the soldiers.
Congregant Richard Dukas said that it was only when packing simple items like batteries that he began to "feel a connection to the soldiers. I got a chill," he said. "We usually think of them as nameless and faceless."
By pure chance, said Herskovitz, her son Noah while not at Sunday’s event had just been home for a two-week visit, during which he was invited, as a Frisch graduate, to address seniors at the school.
"They were interested to know why an Orthodox Jewish boy joined the army," she said, adding that the talk went so well, the Frisch administration and parents association began to encourage participation in her care-package project.
"Originally it was an internal project," she said. "We posted a notice on TeaneckShuls when we realized the scope of what would be involved in filling 77 boxes."
Not only did the posting help bring in the required items, but "I received calls from people who said they wanted to help support us financially," she said. "I’m overwhelmed by how many people seemed to get excited about his project."
The project "snowballed after Noah’s visit to Frisch," she added, resulting not only in additional supplies but in more than 10 additional volunteers for Sunday’s event.
"We originally conceived of the project as a youth activity," said Herskovitz, pointing out that Noah had mentioned how moved the soldiers were by letters and drawings from children. "They have such a beautiful, innocent way of expressing themselves," she said. While the project ultimately became a social action event, targeted to the whole shul, a special room was reserved for young children, who were encouraged to write letters and draw pictures.
"I think it is important to write to the soldiers because they are in the middle of the war, and if we send them nice pictures and letters it will help take their minds off of the bad things," said Josh Dukas, age 8, of Teaneck.
"We put one letter in every package," said Herskovitz. The boxes will be picked up by the post office and delivered to an APO address, awaiting shipment to Iraq.
"Noah isn’t telling the other soldiers about it," she said. "He can’t wait to see their faces when the packages arrive."
Noah will be in Iraq for another year, said his mother, indicating that it was likely that the members of the unit would appreciate receiving another package before then. "We may do this again in the fall," she said.
"I hope we do it again," said Scheininger. "It’s a great feeling. The shul never did anything like this before. It was an opportunity to look outside of ourselves to see and address the needs of other groups. It says a lot about the shul that the idea was so enthusiastically received."
"More than anything, the brave men and women serving in Iraq need to know that the people back home are thinking about them and care about them," said Herskovitz. "Because the number of Jewish soldiers in Iraq is so small, the American Jewish community has been able to shower them with many packages, which is wonderful, but it made me realize how important it is to show our support of all the soldiersregardless of background."