A group of young lone IDF soldiers is fighting to rebuild their "home away from home," a clubhouse in a kibbutz on the border with Gaza, after it has become uninhabitable. The group, living on meager military salaries, are trying to raise money to improve the lives of those who travel thousands of miles from their families to serve Israel.
In the summer of 2014, Israel was embroiled in a fierce battle against Hamas in Gaza. The Gaza border communities became a dangerous area; feeling the brunt of the fighting, with several attempted terrorist infiltrations and frequent rocket and mortar attacks.
In the middle of the chaos lay a troop of young Americans who had come to join the IDF through Garin Tzabar, an Israeli Scouts program which helps young Jews and Israelis living abroad who want to return to Israel to serve in the IDF.
The 22 young men and women were meant to be absorbed by Kibbutz Nir Yizthak; which would become their home for the duration of their service in the army. However, their new lives would have to wait, as the kibbutz lay in the immediate vicinity of the violence raging across the border.
The would-be soldiers would later adopt the name "Garin Eitan" (invoking the Hebrew name for Operation Protective Edge - "Tzuk Eitan"), due to the importance of the conflict in the group's development.
Sagiv Levi, a member of 'Garin Eitan', told Ynet that the group was initially not allowed to move into their accommodations at Nir Yitzhak due to concerns for their safety in light of the ongoing conflict next door.
"We stayed at Kibbutz Yehiam in the north; the whole thing really affected us. Our parents were afraid, but we were fighting to move into our new home in Nir Yitzhak."
Levi says that they were finally allowed to move into their housing in September, one month after the official start of the program, and after the end of hostilities in Gaza.
According to Levi, the kibbutz had previously hosted other Garin Tzabar groups, and upon arrival they realized their 'club' facility was in shambles. "The building is the oldest on the kibbutz - over 60 years old - there are rats, the building is in squalid condition, and it is falling apart," he says.
The members of the group have since been drafted into the IDF, and now spend the little time off at home stuck in their rooms, due to the poor condition of their club.
"The clubhouse is our home; it's where we feel the most comfortable. We talk there, we eat there, we watch TV there, it’s the center of our life," Levi says.
"The club is the one place that serves as the group's meeting point, and place to relieve stress, and it is uninhabitable," he says.
For a group of young soldiers, rebuilding the club represents a major challenge.
According to Levi, the clubhouse's situation has gotten worse over time, pushing Liat Aharon, another member of the group, to launch a fundraising campaign.
The group hopes the campaign will be able to secure a portion of the funds needed to rebuild the club, which still serves another Garin Tzabar group living on the kibbutz, as well as 'Garin Eitan,' and any future Garin Tzabar groups.
The group has pushed the campaign on social media platforms, and has secured promises for donations from several groups, including the kibbutz, which pledged to match any donation made, at any cost.
Levi says that the estimated cost of the reconstruction is around $26,000; however, as of now, the group has a goal of $13,000 - of which $4,000 has already been raised.
Levi, who has now been serving in the infantry Nahal Brigade for six months, is hopeful that they can meet their goal, and make their home away from home an enjoyable place.
To help fund their goal, and for more information click here .