Orphans from the IDF Widows and Orphans organization plant olive trees in the Givat Koah forest along with Tami Shelach, IDFWO chair, herself an IDF widow. (photo from IMP Group Ltd.)
Eleven-year-old Maya Keidar lost her father, Lt.-Col. Dolev Keidar, in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014. But, on Tu b’Shevat this year, she was smiling as she helped plant some olive trees with other orphans in the Givat Koah forest near Rosh HaAyin in Israel – a site where many trees had been devastated by the recent forest fires. The initiative was organized by the Israel Defence Forces Widows and Orphans organization.
“It’s fun to spend time outdoors, with nature, and even more fun to do it with the friends from IDFWO,” said Maya.
Eliyah Asulin, 10, and her sister Ophir, 14, were part of the group. The Asulin sisters’ father, policeman Sgt. Maj. Shlomi Asulin, was stabbed and killed in 2011 when chasing after car thieves in 2011. Also participating were Jonathan Zilbershlag, 7, and his older brother Ido, 11, who were digging hard to break ground with a spade. Helping them was 8-year-old Yaron Berkovic. While they worked, the children tried to protect as much of the native Israeli flowers that had grown within the past week among the trees in the forest.
“These children’s fathers implanted the values of sacrifice and love of Israel in all of us,” said Tami Shelach, chair of IDFWO, herself an IDF widow. “Now, we must take the values they’ve modeled and continue maintaining them. It’s our fervent hope and wish that these orphans will, indeed, see new beginnings sprout from the darkness.”
The olive tree was chosen as a symbol of peace and hope. And, added 11-year-old Michael Zacharia – whose father, Sgt. Maj. Gil Zacharia, collapsed while his reserve unit was training in 2015 – “It’s a tree with strong roots, so it’ll live for a long time.”
IDFWO is the only nonprofit organization recognized by the State of Israel to work with widows and orphans of the IDF and Israel’s security forces. They care for approximately 8,000 widows and orphans every year through recreational events, programming, retreats, b’nai mitzvah trips, etc. For more information, visit idfwo.org/eng.