Ori Greenberg lost his father, IDF Lieut.-Col. Amotz Greenberg, in July 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
Speaking to almost 300 supporters of IDF Widows & Orphans (IDFWO) at a Toronto fundraiser March 27, the 15-year-old boy spoke of the role the organization has played in his life in the past few years.
“My father, my hero, died while protecting Israeli citizens from terrorists that came from Gaza,” said Ori, who also noted that his father continued to volunteer after age 40, when it was no longer mandatory for him to serve in the reserves.
“At first, it seemed like the pain and the sadness will never go away,” Ori said. “But as time went by, we learned to live alongside it. Never to forget, but also to live a full life and enjoy happy moments in our lives.”
Ori was in Toronto two years ago as part of an annual North American bar and bat mitzvah trip organized by IDFWO, which works with more than 8,000 women and children. He also attends the organization’s OTZMA Camps during Pesach, Sukkot, and Chanukah holidays. Attendees “have a lot of fun together, but also support each other, as we can all understand what we go through.”
IDFWO Canada, a registered charitable organization, was started in Toronto about seven years ago by Peter and Stella Ekstein, after Peter met Nava Shoham, then chair of the organization, in Israel.
Ekstein had an affinity for the cause, he said in an interview. The couple hosted an initial parlour meeting in their home to raise funds.
The next year, Randy and Esti Cohen came on board, then Brian and Pamela Hochman.
The three couples hosted the recent event at Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, featuring MODI, an Israeli-born New York-based comedian. It was IDFWO Canada’s first large-scale fundraiser.
Randy Cohen, the driving force behind the fundraiser, said that, as of two days after the event, the organization had raised $120,000 and donations were still coming in.
He added that, as a result of more orphans coming into the organization after Operation Protective Edge, increased donations allowed the organization in Israel to run a fourth camp during the summer. The camps serve kids of all ages, and IDFWO also assists them financially as they enter university and start living on their own, Cohen told The CJN.
“The kids need help just as much now” as they did two years ago, he said, adding that funds are no longer adequate for the Israel-based summer camp. “Camp is where [the kids] heal. They can cry together. They can laugh together. They can say Kaddish together. They don’t have to feel different.”
The bar/bat mitzvah trip is capped by a ceremony at the Kotel, where they are greeted by Israeli dignitaries and given tfillin or candlesticks. The Toronto portion, co-ordinated by Esti Cohen, includes home hospitality and a variety of activities, and many donations by businesses in the community.
Israel’s consul general for Toronto and Western Canada, Galit Baram, said in a brief address at the fundraiser, “We cannot celebrate Israel’s independence and success, and security, without acknowledging the heavy price” paid by so many.
All Israelis “know the price of this loss,” she said. “We have all lost people who are dear to us… They’re an integral part of what makes us Israeli.”
She lauded the courage of the families left behind, and of children like Ori in particular.
Baram cited Ori’s warmth and sense of humour, and predicted that he would do great things in the future. A history buff who plans to study biomedicine in high school and dreams of being an Israeli ambassador, Ori – recalling his bar mitzvah visit to Toronto – said he would never forget “how great it felt knowing that so many people care about what me and my family went through.”