A Coke bottle and Bamba bag commemorate a fallen soldier, and call for unity amongst sectors
Family and friends seek appropriate commemorations for their deceased loved one. But distributing Bamba [the famous Israeli snack] and Coca Cola to honor a fallen soldier might seem a bit odd.
Maybe recently you’ve noticed stands collecting Bamba & Coke outside of supermarkets and the bus and train stations? Or people handing soldiers a drink and snack? Operation Jucha, aka the “Bamba, Coke, Memory Initiative” is now under way.
Major Yochai ‘Jucha’ Kalangel, an IDF combat company commander, fell on January 28, 2015 as he guarded the Lebanese Border, leaving behind his young daughter and pregnant wife, who gave birth to his second daughter 6 months later.
Yochai’s bereaved father came to speak about him shortly afterwards with my town’s youth, at Moshav Yonatan in the Golan Heights.
Our teens were inspired by Yochai’s unique character, and deeply touched by his personal care for each and every one of his soldiers.
Despite the constant responsibilities and pressures of being a front-line commander, every spare moment he sought out and purchased food for needy soldiers, bought appliances for lone soldiers and more – and his family never knew.
One story in particular caught the teens’ ears. Whenever Commander Yochai saw a depressed soldier he handed him a credit card, saying “Go buy yourself a Bamba and Coke – and cheer up!”
These kids decided to conduct a yearly nationwide campaign honoring him on his yahrzeit, Operation (Mivtza) Jucha. As teens do, they put it out using social media. Israelis were asked to go out and treat soldiers everywhere with Bamba and Coke.
Operation Jucha inspires acts of kindness and gratitude by applying Yochai’s life story.
No matter how busy you are, no matter how intense things are, you always need to see the other. The one needing that smile, that good word, that Bamba. Your personal attention.
Eight years later, as Yochai’s family was in Mount Herzl visiting his grave, over 40,000 care packages were being handed with a smile and a hug around the country, from Mt. Hermon to Eilat.
And it’s not just the numbers.
A mother of a lone soldier wrote us, astonished by her daughter getting off the train kids mobbing her saying thank you, hugging her and giving her Bamba and Coke.
Soldiers wrote us excitingly about that Bamba and Coke coming to them at just at the right time when they were feeling down. We see a new trend of soldiers looking out for their comrades, treating them with Bamba-Coke every time they notice someone a bit down.
During COVID lockdown, people who couldn’t make it to an army base treated their quarantined neighbors, while others splurged on their area medical teams.
This year, following requests from around the world, Operation Jucha went international.
Cheryl Feingold Dorchinsky of the Atlanta Israel Coalition told her community about Yochai and made a support sign:
“We were deeply touched by Yochai’s story and the unique commemoration; this was the least we can do to be a part of such a special campaign.”
Hadas and Avigail, Bnei Akiva Shlichot in Westfalen Germany, dedicated their weekly ‘Hebrew on the Bar’ lesson to Operation Jucha and shared a Bamba and Coke with each participant.
“Teaching the guys about Israel and the IDF through Jucha’s eyes and his life-approach was special. They hear about Israel from various sources, and here they connected directly through a personal story that turned into a huge project. It enabled us to access the topic of Israeli bereavement from a very different angle.”
President Isaac Herzog sent a special letter to participants, emphasizing that the operation symbolizes joint values we believe in, and a society-wide joint effort that we very much need these days.
As Israel faces a deep political conflict, and as terror attacks hit Israelis without differing between their religious beliefs or political opinion, Operation Jucha united thousands in Israel and worldwide around a joint mission.
We must take this positive joint effort, its positive atmosphere on social media, and copy-paste it to more areas of life, now, without waiting for a war or terror attack to unite us. We have much more in common than we think.
Look at the beautiful pictures. The answer is right there in front of us. Thank you, Yochai.
Bamba, Coke, Memory.
Bamba, Coke, Unity.