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S.O.S. Save Our Soldiers

Raised awareness to the plight of the three Israeli soldiers captured in the 2006 Lebanon War.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
South Orange, NJ
www.tsti.org

Light One Candle For Gilad
www.freethesoldiers.org


Goals: 

  • Raise Awareness of the plight of the three kidnapped soldiers in the 2006 Lebanon War 
  • Develop a personal connection between American Jewry and Israel 
  • Help teens find their voice and stand up for social justice

Overview:
S.O.S. Save Our Soldiers raised awareness to the plight of the 2006 three missing and captured Israeli soldiers. Spearheaded by the synagogue’s teen mitzvah club, the project included extensive lobbying efforts, the development of an educational program to teach the history and current politics of Israel as well as tell personal stories of the soldiers. Currently, this project is the force behind the worldwide campaign, “Light One Candle for Gilad Shalit.”

Preparation:
A group of teens formed a mitzvah group. They met frequently to plan their strategy for the campaign. They also attended rallies and events at which they had leadership roles.

The teens also brought the program to URJ Northeast Camp Institute. The Machon Unit at camp further developed the program. Campers received education about the campaign. They were urged to bring the program into their synagogues. A program guide was posted on the resource guide for NFTY and the RAC websites.

Project Implementation:
The teens’ first activity was to reach out to local politicians to learn how to navigate the political arena. They joined forces with UJC and local federations to lobby the state assembly and senate. The teens testified in the Assembly and Senate, participated in community events including UJA Super Sundays, synagogue mitzvah fairs and other events. A representative of the group spoke at a Free the Soldiers Rally at the U.N. The religious school director and a group of students attended the rally. Following the rally, the NFTY Board made S.O.S. a NFTY Social Action Inititative.

The Empty Chair Campaign, which was replicated in many other congregations, involved placing 3 empty chairs on the bima during the high holidays to honor the missing soldiers. The President of the synagogue spoke about the campaign in his speech and the issue appeared in many temple bulletin articles. Many Bar/Bat Mitzvah students dedicated their mitzvah projects to the missing soldiers and donating some of their money to the families of the soldiers. Students from other synagogues also dedicated their B’nai Mitzvot to the campaign. All monies were directed to Habanim, a foundation in Israel for the soldiers.

Teens taught the 7th grade religious school classes about S.O.S. The teens and the 7th graders created curriculum to teach grades 3rd - 6th. The students also sold dog tags, t-shirts and obtained one thousand signatures for their petition.

Youth group events continued to highlight the program, educating other groups on the importance of standing up justice. The teens became leaders in the community, often being keynote speakers and leading workshops at teen service days and mitzvah days.
Adults joined in the efforts, serving as advisors, mentors and writing letters to their elected officials.

Results:
S.O.S. raised significant awareness of the plight of the soldiers. In addition, it gave Jewish teens a chance to become educated and to educate others how to stand up for injustice. The teens served as a powerful role model for other youth and adults that a small group of people can make a difference in the world. They also showed that this generation of youth will not be known as the silent generation. They illustrated that with hard work and passion they could motivate youth and adults, politicians and community leaders.

S.O.S. raised over $5,000. In addition, many people made direct contributions to Habanim.

This program continues to be replicated in other communities.

They were featured in a Documentary movie on the issue of why some teens get involved in their community and why some are apathetic, TORCH, NY.

S.O.S. partnered with One Family Fund in an effort to raise awareness of the missile attacks against Sderot and surrounding communities. S.O.S. hosted a family from Sderot who were directly affected by the attacks.

S.O.S. embarked on a Chanukah campaign, Light One Candle for Gilad Shalit, with the involvement of multiple American and Israeli organizations, in solidarity for Gilad Shalit.

This program received a Fain Award in 2009.