IDF gears up for larger than normal seder meals, offers cash to troops in need

IDF gears up for larger than normal seder meals, offers cash to troops in need

Military says it received some NIS 19 million in donations, will go toward improving bases where soldiers are being confined, helping those hardest hit financially

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The IDF displays how the seder meals it plans to host on its bases will look, on April 6, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
The IDF displays how the seder meals it plans to host on its bases will look, on April 6, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces was preparing on two fronts for the upcoming Passover holiday on Wednesday night in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic: hosting the traditional seder meal for far, far more troops than it normally would, and providing additional assistance to cash-strapped soldiers during this difficult period, senior military officers said Monday.

Most years, the IDF holds seder meals for “20 to 30 percent of the fighting force. Now it’s almost everyone,” Brig. Gen. Meirav Brickman, head of the IDF’s Supply Center, told reporters.

This was a result of IDF orders requiring nearly all combat troops and most others to remain confined to their bases for long stretches at a time — something the IDF does not normally do — in order to prevent them from contracting the virus from civilians.

This year’s holiday — one normally celebrated by full extended families — also comes at a particularly difficult time for the nation and the world, as hundreds are hospitalized with the COVID-19 illness, thousands more are sick at home, and the rest of the country is effectively under lockdown, keeping children, parents, and grandparents apart.

“We are trying to make sure that this is festive,” Brickman said.

The IDF displays how the seder meals it plans to host on its bases will look on April 6, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

She noted that bases will hold seder meals both for those seeking strict accordance with religious law as well as those who want the festive meals without the religious framework. The military said it purchased 14,000 kilograms (30,860 pounds) of fish and 200,000 kilograms (440,925 pounds) of meat to this end.

Brickman said commanders were also working to ensure that soldiers will have time to shower and properly prepare for the holiday in advance to further the festive air.

Brig. Gen. Michel Yanko, chief of staff of the IDF Manpower Directorate, said the military has also been working to improve bases, as they have become “the first and second homes of the soldiers in every meaning of the word.”

Pallets of vegetables in a military storehouse as part of the IDF’s preparations for the upcoming Passover holiday, on April 6, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

That has included installing washing machines and dryers on military bases, distributing roughly 140,000 packages of hygienic products to soldiers and holding movie nights, lectures and sports competitions for troops.

“We are doing what we can so that they don’t lack anything,” Yanko said.

This was made possible with recent large donations to the military — roughly NIS 19 million ($5 million) — through various organizations, like the Friends of the IDF, he said.

The human resources officer said the military was also using these funds to address the financial distress in which many soldiers have found themselves as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to roughly a quarter of Israelis going on unemployment.

As the IDF’s base salary is not enough to subsist on, most troops rely either on their parents or — in some cases — on external jobs to make ends meet. In light of the crisis, many soldiers have lost their external jobs and the parents of many more have lost theirs.

The IDF displays its pre-made kits of food and religious objects needed to hold a seder, on April 6, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

As a result, the military distributed “rapid grants” of NIS 600 ($170) to the roughly 6,000 lone soldiers — those who are either not supported financially by their parents or do not have families in the country — and 3,000 soldiers requiring financial assistance, as well as one-time grants of between NIS 500 to 1,200 ($140-$330) to soldiers who are married or have children. These automatic payments were due to be deposited in the soldiers’ accounts by Wednesday night.

In addition, troops who do not ordinarily receive financial assistance from the military, but due to the crisis suddenly do require it, are eligible to receive vouchers and other assistance from their commanders, Yanko said.

He said the military was working to limit the amount of bureaucracy that troops would have to go through, making much of the process online and putting the power to issue the grants to lower ranking officers than usual.

Yanko said the military was also providing food and religious goods needed to hold a Seder meal for lone soldiers who will not be on base during the holiday.

“We are working so that every lone soldier has something to do for Passover. Those who live in ‘Soldiers Homes’ will do the Seder there in small groups. Those living in apartments will get a box of food before the holiday with everything they need,” he said.

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