Ever since the war with Hamas began and Israel called up over 300,000 reservists as part of Operation Swords of Iron, there have been two topics that have been staples of the Israeli news cycle: the lack of equipment and supplies needed for Israel’s troops; and the many civilian-run volunteer efforts to help make up for it.
The Baking Battalion is one such effort.
Led by Hedy Rashba, the Baking Battalion was actually set in motion by someone else.
It all started when a lawyer named Tamar Arbel teamed up with Jerusalemites Benayahu and Tuvya Ben Shabbat and others via Facebook to coordinate a collaborative volunteer effort. This initiative, at the time called Hamal for Sweets, with the word hamal meaning “war room,” focused on baking, collecting, and distributing cakes to soldiers in the South.
Rashba got involved a week later, looking for a way to volunteer and help out during this turbulent time.
“I, personally, in my own bubble in Jerusalem, could not sit still. Who could?” she told the Magazine. “I was scanning local and national WhatsApp groups, I was driving mezuzot across town, tying tzitzit, wrapping tuna sandwiches, transporting kids to volunteer activities, picking up grandchildren, making more meals, making more beds, and doing more laundry than ever before.
“I ran into a neighbor whom I hadn’t seen in a while, she with three kids in the army, and me with two. We looked at each other’s [grocery] baskets and cried,” she continued. “We spoke about how we were both making that home-cooked meal in case our kids got out for that 18-36 hour furlough that some are getting. And I realized I wanted to get more home-cooked food out to other soldiers as well.”
It was then that Rashba found Hamal for Sweets, and though she wanted to help, she couldn’t just bake – she needed to help get the word out.
“What I didn’t anticipate,” she said, “was the size of the response.”
Indeed, Hamal for Sweets wasn’t just some local Jerusalem effort. Baking donations were set up in cities throughout the country, such as Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, Pardess Hana, Tirat Yehuda, and Givat Shmuel.
Soon, more and more people became aware of this effort after Rashba’s call to action circulated through WhatsApp groups. She asked people to help make cakes, cookies, and challah, and bring them to her home in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, after which she drove to Gilo to drop them off.
From the donation locations, the baked goods end up going not just to the South but to IDF soldiers in the North as well.
One notable example of this came from Elisaf Peretz, the son of Israel Prize laureate and former presidential candidate Miriam Peretz. He had heard about the Baking Battalion and asked, half-jokingly if any of the baked goods could be brought to him and his soldiers serving near Mount Hermon.
The battalion delivered – literally. Not only that, but they also dropped off baked goods for IDF reservists in Kfar Blum and made sure food was left for the soldiers stationed in Kfar Giladi, who couldn’t be reached.
FOR THE bakers taking part in the initiative, the entire project is very rewarding.
Baking: A hobby made useful to help IDF soldiers
One such volunteer is Rabbi David Levin-Kruss, a South African oleh (immigrant) and former IDF soldier who is an adjunct faculty member at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.
A Jewish educator by trade, Levin-Kruss is an avid baker, having taken up the hobby to relieve tension. “But baking isn’t exactly good for my weight, so I decided to become a pusher, not a user, and bake for others,” he joked to the Magazine.
Last week was Levin-Kruss’s first time taking part in the Baking Battalion. “I made brownies,” he said. “That’s why my wife said we should call it the brownie brigade.”
But aside from helping indulge his love of baking, the Baking Battalion also has a more personal meaning for him.
“When I was an IDF soldier myself, I remember when the cookies would come and I wasn’t sure if they were kosher or not,” Levin-Kruss explained.
“So on what I baked, I left the kashrut information and my phone number and told them to call me if they had any questions. They didn’t call me about the kashrut, but they did call me to say thanks.”
Now more and more volunteers are taking part, some of them recruited by Levin-Kruss through Pardes, and others who found out about it a different way. Some volunteers have even formed their own new group, dubbed Bubbies R Baking.
“I had no idea what I was getting into or what it would bring,” Rashba said, “but it was joyful.”
She continued, “So even if we are not usually cookie moms, even if we are not soldiers in the IDF, even if we are not the bravest, we are baking, and we are choosing to act on love.” ■