Recollections of Bernie Zweig

The LSS community continues its support of the brave soldiers in Israel though its “Adopt An IDF Unit” program. This year we raised $13,000 to help build Ha’bayit shel Benji (Benji’s House), a group home for chayalim bodedim, soldiers with no family living in Israel or from underprivileged Israeli families. We had aimed to raise $10,000 to outfit a computer room; the money we raised beyond our goal will purchase mezuzas for the building.

According to Elliot Zweig, who grew up in LSS and has completed his service in the IDF, “being a soldier in the Israeli army is a difficult enough experience, but being a chayal boded adds a whole other dimension to the challenge. While the army physically takes care of you while training and sending you to battle, it is often unequipped to take care of a soldier’s emotional needs. When a soldier comes home on leave, he needs the comfort of a home and the luxury of someone to take care of him.”

The House was established in memory of Company Commander Major Benji Hillman of the Egoz Commando Unit in the Golani Brigade, who was killed on July 20, 2006 in the Second Lebanon War. It is being built in Ra’naana, Benji’s home since making Aliya in 1983 from the UK.

Many of Benji’s soldiers recall his concern for the special needs of the chayalim bodedim under his command. He always made sure that they had a place to spend the chagim, worried that they weren’t living in squalor, and tried to serve as surrogate mother and father. 

The idea for the House came from Benji’s family. Less than a month before he was killed, Benji married Ayala Borger. Benji’s cousin Rabbi Binny Freedman (who grew up in LSS) recalls the beauty of the wedding. “It could have been a movie, only it was so much better than a movie, because it was real.”

Another cousin Saul Rurka, director of the project, says that “Benji prayed for his soldiers under the chuppah at his wedding only three weeks before he was killed in Lebanon, and Benji returned from his honeymoon to fight alongside his soldiers in the Second Lebanon War.”

Groundbreaking scheduled

The 1,500-square-meter, 25-room house in Ra'anana will provide 50 soldiers with a home away from home 365 days a year. It will be staffed by a permanent “house mother” assisted by volunteer families.

The House will offer meals, laundry, a library, a computer room, leisure activities, and educational and vocational guidance for Chayalim bodedim. Soldiers may also continue to use its services after leaving the Army.

Groundbreaking will be held in the next few months on land donated by the city of Ra’anana; the House should be completed by 2010. May Ha’bayit shel Benji be a home for lone IDF Soldiers, and may our own new LSS Bayit be a home for the entire West Side Community.

Wed, January 17 2018 1 Shevat 5778