With just a couple of days to go to Lag B’Omer, wood is by far the most precious commodity in Israel. And I have a stockpile carefully hidden in my garden.


wood for the treesIt has to remain well away from public view because, even as I write, children all over the country are roaming the streets in searching of suitable bonfire material to load onto hijacked supermarket trolleys. This peculiarly Israeli phenomenon has to be seen to be believed.

I know from experience that I dare not allow even one small piece to be visible to passersby at this time of year. Around seventeen years ago, when my son was in primary school, he and his friends had amassed a pile of wood for their school Lag B’Omer bonfire and were storing it here in our front garden.

The next day, a group of intimidating eight-year-olds removed the wood, claiming it was up for grabs because it was on public view. They harangued my son when he attempted to reason against this logic and only very reluctantly relinquished two small pieces of wood from their overflowing trolleys.

I’d like to say that this uncompromising and loutish behaviour was that of a mere splinter group rather than representative of mainstream Israeli youth, but when it comes to Lag B’omer, at least, decent behavioural norms go out the window.

The pieces of wood currently concealed in my garden are actually signposts destined later on today to be hammered in along the route of a community sponsored walk which is taking place here in Raanana tomorrow morning.

The walk is in aid of HaBayit Shel Benji, a home for lone soldiers that was built in the city in memory of Benji Hillman, a major in the elite Egoz Unit, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War in July 2006, just three weeks after his wedding. This is the eighth walk, and each one to date has been a major fundraiser for the home.

A soldier coming home to HaBayit shel Benji

A soldier coming home to HaBayit shel Benji

HaBayit Shel Benji provides a truly warm home for lone combat soldiers coming from abroad who have no family here, or for those who come from underprivileged families in Israel. Forty-eight soldiers each have their own room for the whole of their army service, as well as all the other comforts of home – and some extras. There are laundry services, a comfortable lounge, a bright dining room and a well equipped kitchen that provides home-cooked food. And there are recreational activities including snooker and table tennis tables and a library. In addition, a guidance centre helps all lone soldiers, not just those who live in the home, to prepare for civilian life when they finish the army.

The idea of building HaBayit shel Benji started during the shiva week after Benji was killed, when an endless fund of stories emerged about the tireless efforts he had made on behalf of all his soldiers, particularly lone soldiers. Benji had told his parents, Judy and Danny, very little about his life in the army. They had no idea about the extent of the problem – particularly with lone soldiers who come from difficult home circumstances in Israel – and no idea about the extent to which Benji was helping. When this project was suggested, they felt it would be an appropriate way of continuing his legacy of giving everything he could to his soldiers.

I’ve been involved with the project from the beginning and I watched as it slowly took shape. Now that it’s up and running, each time I go in I’m full of admiration at how the family’s initial dream became such a fantastic reality. These lone combat soldiers have it very tough in the army and when they ‘come home’ to HaBayit shel Benji they are well looked after, as they deserve.

The challenge now, though, is to raise sufficient funds to meet the running costs. This year’s community walk is tomorrow, Friday May 16, at 8.45 am. It’s a 4km or 8km on-road family-friendly walk beginning from the amphi car park next to Park Raanana.

See www.benjihillman.org for more details about the home and the walk, and how to donate.  Please come along tomorrow morning if you find yourself in this neck of the woods – just follow the signs.