Students at hundreds of Chabad Hebrew Schools raise thousands to send toys to Israeli children in distress as part of CKids’ Chanukah GiftAThon.
Nine-year-old Aron* left his home near Israel’s northern border nearly over a month ago. Shuffling between temporary residences arranged by the Israeli government, he’s homesick. “He misses his friends, his home, and having his own toys,” his mother says. He’s one of 200,000 Israelis displaced by the ongoing war.
Ahead of Chanukah, thousands of Hebrew School students across America banded together to purchase and ship thousands of toys to Israeli children spending the holiday away from home.
Dubbed the Giftathon, Chabad Children’s Network (CKids) organized the gift-giving program in conjunction with Malky’s Toy Store in Jerusalem, Israel.
With hundreds of participating Hebrew Schools, the Giftathon saw thousands of youngsters like Chase and Lily from Potomac, Maryland, raise or contribute their own funds to bring a glimmer of hope to their brothers and sisters in Israel. CKids’ project coordinator Sarah Chein watched as young children from Australia to seized the opportunity to make a real difference.
“The children’s response was remarkable,” says Rabbi Zalmy Loewenthal, director of CKids International at Merkos 302. “We just created a channel, and children got it. Whether they gave some of their own money or raised funds from others, they knew they were doing something that mattered.”
In Israel, the donations poured in. A veritable mountain of card games, dolls, lego sets, remote-controlled toys, and brain teasers shipped out to displaced families and children of soldiers fighting far from home.
The packages arrived just in time for Chanukah bearing little notes. “Happy Chanukah from Australia,” wrote the Gordons from Sydney. “Much love from America,” read another note from Chicago, Illinois. The Levinsons’ note from Ann Arbor, Michigan, offered encouraging words, “You are strong, you are brave, you are special!”
For Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, CKids’ chairman and Vice-Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the initiative was significant as an expression of Jewish unity amidst distress. “The Giftathon was more than a nice gesture,” he says. “It’s thousands of children telling their brothers and sisters, ‘You’re not alone, we’re here for you.’” He adds, “Unity, especially that of children, is our greatest strength at times like this.”
Aron’s new Lego Jet Set is good fun. But as his family celebrates Chanukah away from home, it’s the knowledge that Jewish children far away cared enough to send it that warms them most. “It’s a glimmer of hope,” his mother says. “Times are hard now, but we’re not alone.”