Jesse Schafer of East Brunswick is carrying on a strong family tradition of support to Yashar LaChayal, the Israel-based nonprofit organization that raises money for needy IDF soldiers and “lone” soldiers, those serving without family in Israel.
Three years ago, Jesse’s older brother, Matt, for his bar mitzva tzedaka project raised $5,000 for Yashar LaChayal to purchase 250 shlukers — water backpacks — through the sale of wristbands bearing the phrase “Peace 2012.” The backpacks have a hose attachment that allows for quick drinking during maneuvers.
So to celebrate his own bar mitzva May 16 at East Brunswick Jewish Center, Jesse decided he too wanted to raise funds for the organization. But, while the Schafer family went to Israel to hand deliver the shlukers to the soldiers, in Jesse’s case the Israel Defense Forces came to him.
Jesse was surprised when during the service Zev Fima, who fought in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, showed up to present him with a plaque on behalf of the soldiers being helped.
“I just kind of stared at him for a few seconds,” recalled Jesse in a phone interview. “After he gave me a plaque he started explaining what he does. He’s a ground soldier [infantry]. He also explained to the whole congregation how Yashar LaChayal helps the Israeli soldiers.”
In particular, Jesse was impressed by Fima’s accounts of how warm jackets donated through the organization help the soldiers avoid becoming “freezing cold when out in the desert or mountains at night.”
Jesse also said Fima told them a story about why the shlukers were so appreciated.
“He said his whole battalion was isolated for a day or two and they ran out of water,” he said. “He was so thirsty he drank the water from a can of chickpeas. He said he sure wished that night they had those shlukers.”
The surprise visit from Fima was arranged by Jack Silverman, cochair of EBJC’s Mitzvah Corps and national president of the American board of Yashar LaChayal.
Jesse, a seventh-grader at Rutgers Prep in Somerset and the son of Will and Amy Schafer, turned 13 on May 17. In addition to doing his part to help Israeli soldiers, Jesse took pride in hitting another goal — to beat his brother’s total — which he did by raising $8,200, although his father acknowledged he sent word out among his own business contacts for Jesse, something that he didn’t do for Matt.
Jesse also sold wristbands to raise funds and held a bake sale in April at the Short Hills home of his aunt and uncle, Jason and Michele Kaplan. Jesse also plans to donate at least $2,000 from his own bar mitzva gifts to Yashar LaChayal.
Will Schafer said his son understands the importance of supporting and protecting Israel as a safe haven for Jews. His grandfather, Michael Kaplan of Highland Park, is a Holocaust survivor and Jesse himself experienced two instances of anti-Semitism in the last year.
In one case another boy told a Hitler joke in front of him. The other incident occurred when Jesse’s traveling basketball team, the majority of whose members are not Jewish, were leaving a Catholic church in South Amboy after winning a tournament. As they went out, the church custodian “told us to go back where we came from and cursed us as Jews in front of 30 parents and kids,” said Will Schafer.
Jesse is continuing to take donations for Yashar LaChayal. To donate, send a check made out to Yashar LaChayal, with Jesse’s name in the subject line, to East Brunswick Jewish Center, 511 Ryders Lane, East Brunswick, NJ 08816.