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Operation Teddy Bear Hug

From the bloodied teddy bears in Tel Aviv to the ones bringing comfort to displaced kids and their parents, I learned the power of a children's toy
Chava Floryn
Chava Floryn

I recently traveled to Israel on a mental health mission hosted by MASK, Nefesh, and The United Task Force. Alongside two dozen other healers, my goal was to offer solace and document Israel’s resilience.

Walking through Tel Aviv’s streets, I noticed large teddy bears lining the sidewalks. Blood stained, gagged and filthy, they were a stark reminder of the violence perpetrated on October 7th. People throughout the city bustled, circulating through their daily routines. I stood frozen at the life-sized teddy bears lining Dizengoff Street as a constant reminder of Hamas hostages’ suffering. As I gazed upon the anguish, I wondered how many moments I would experience the resilient spirit of moving through it.

“We have no choice,” was the constant Israeli sentiment on my trip. There was an overall attitude of “keep moving forward.” However, there is moving and there is moving. Israelis don’t just move, they empower and elevate.

Arye Dobuler retired from reserve duty four months before October 7th after 20 years in the IDF.

Already forty and aged out, he still called his commander to let him know his bags were packed and he was ready for duty. At the time, Arye was no longer required to serve in the field as his unit had been dissolved. Still, Arye was a man of action, and decided to figure out a different way to contribute.

His attention shifted to easing the evacuation of Israelis into hotels when he saw the rush of refugees flooding Jerusalem. Conducting his own reconnaissance mission, he began to observe what supplies were missing and needed. The requests began to pile up, and so his operation began. He had diapers, feminine hygiene products, clothing, toys, books, games, and even food distributed. Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations were coordinated along with birthday parties. He worked tirelessly to ensure that the refugees had everything they needed and that their stay was as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.  He was a beacon of hope in a chaotic situation.

During the first three weeks after the initial rush of basic supplies had slowed down, Arye shifted his focus to meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the displaced population, which led to the launch of “Operation Teddy Bear Hug.” “Somebody had donated a giant doll. And I said this teddy bear has a higher purpose. This teddy bear is gonna go around and make a lot of people happy.”

Arye’s life-size white teddy bear was similar to the ones I saw all over Tel Aviv, but with rosy cheeks and a healthy appearance. He began to make the rounds. Soldiers, children, and parents embraced the teddy bear. But over time, Arye wanted to create more opportunities for children to have the ongoing gift of the teddy bear. To date, Arye has graced over thirty hotels, bearing a sack brimming with teddy bears, dolls, and gentle creatures, bringing solace to children, like soft whispers in the night, offering love’s soothing embrace to those in need, amidst shadows’ plight.

“I never go to somebody with a doll and say, here, give a hug. Rather, I set it up nicely. I have a little sign that says, come make the bears happy…give them a hug. And if they want to come to me, they can do that. I don’t impose. They’re sitting in the lobby. They’re enjoying nice quiet time in their own little bubble.”

Arye took me to one of the hotels to set up his “shop.” In mere moments, eager children began to select their cherished dolls, guided by curiosity’s gentle hand. His entire doll collection was dispersed.  I could see a real shift in their eyes, not just in the children but also in their parents.

The stark contrast between wounded teddy bears abandoned on park benches, drenched in the rain and splattered with red blood stains, and the intact dolls Arye gave out as gifts made me realize that Israel is not just a place where conflict happens; it is also a place where healing and love are spread abundantly

About the Author
Chava Floryn is a somatic healer and author of "Everything's Gonna Be Okay," and is dedicated to nurturing resilience in adversity. Her upcoming documentary, "Resilient," offers a firsthand glimpse into the mental health crisis looming in Israel post October 7th and the healing journey of the Israeli people. Join her in this transformative journey at https://chavafloryn.com/resilientdocumentary/.