St. Louis non-profit supports Israeli soldiers

IDF soldiers receive toiletries, personal care products and other items through the support of the St. Louis-based non-profit, Shaving Israel.

By Galit Lev-Harir, Special to the Jewish Light

While on a mission to Israel with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis in 2004, Rachel Miller decided to visit her friend, Carol Hellman, z”l (of blessed memory), who was volunteering with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) through the program “Sar-El.” 

Miller said she remembers that day as though it were yesterday.

“My friend Carol was on the military base, and there was very little toilet paper. I wanted to send some to the base,” Miller said. 

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She enlisted a friend, Marci Rosenberg, and they tried to help find a way to send items to soldiers, but found it was too complicated. They also discovered that IDF soldiers are often in need of a variety of toiletries and personal items. 

“So we created ‘Shaving Israel,’ and we started our mission,” Miller said. She found an early volunteer in her friend Joel Levy. 

Meanwhile, Hellman connected Shaving Israel to the Libi Fund, an Israeli governmental fund that accepts donations for the educational, religious and recreational needs of Israeli soldiers. 

“My idea at the time was that any money we raised, we would give to the Libi Fund,” Miller said. “The reason I felt so strongly about it is because I am a Holocaust survivor, and I wanted Israel to survive. Israel would have been the home for all the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. Israel is my second home.”

Today, Shaving Israel is a non-profit, St. Louis-based organization that directly provides Israeli soldiers with items they need in the field, but are not provided by the IDF. One-hundred percent of donations go directly toward the purchase of items such as toiletries and other personal care items. In 2017, Shaving Israel directly supported more than 1,260 IDF soldiers. 

Shaving Israel has been able to expand its reach and support more soldiers due to the efforts of Meira Ganel (“one amazing woman,” Miller said) and her family in Israel. Ganel’s Shaving Israel colleagues have nicknamed her “The Angel.” Her involvement in Shaving Israel began in 2015, when Sheilah Gross brought Ganel to a regular monthly meeting of Shaving Israel.

“As soon as I heard about Shaving Israel, I knew I had to get involved,” said Genal, who lives in St. Louis but whose sister lives in Israel. 

“Nothing is as meaningful as having direct access to IDF soldiers, meeting them, and giving them our gifts in person — what can be better than touching the life of an IDF soldier directly?”

On her next trip to Israel, Ganel consulted with her family and enlisted their help. Ganel and her sister, Orit Efron Raanan, reached out to Israeli social workers from agencies that work with IDF soldiers who lack financial and/or family support. 

Many of the soldiers come from poor socio-economic backgrounds; some lived in group foster homes. Next, the sisters met with the agency heads, determining the specific needs of the soldiers, and presenting Shaving Israel with an estimated cost for needed items. Shaving Israel then raised the funds, and Ganel contacted Israeli vendors, selected the items, and placed orders. Raanan organized a team of volunteers in Israel to pick up the orders, count, sort and assemble the individual packages, and to deliver them in person to appreciative soldiers.

Since its inception, Shaving Israel has raised nearly $300,000. Money has gone to purchase fleece sweatshirts for soldiers serving on Israel’s northern border with Syria; CamelBak-style hydration backpacks for soldiers serving in hot, desert areas; quick-dry towels for combat soldiers; and other much-needed items such as army socks, T-shirts, cell phone batteries, combination locks and toiletries.

“I’ve been amazed by how the vendors have opened their hearts,” Ganel said. “When they hear that we are purchasing these items to help soldiers, most of the vendors reduce their prices to rock bottom. Some even offer their items free, such as the printing company that donated 6,000 cards with Shaving Israel’s logo and a message describing the organization.” The Shaving Israel cards are included in each care package that is delivered. Large banners with the Shaving Israel logo have also been donated.

For more information about Shaving Israel, visit shavingisrael.org or search for the organization’s name on Facebook. Donations also can be mailed to: Shaving Israel at P.O. Box 6991, Chesterfield, 63017.