Dallas gives long-distance hugs
Photo: Tamar Bendheimx
In February 2024, from left, Raz, Aluma, Nava, Ariel, Carmel, Rachel and Pdaya Halperin went to Israel to celebrate the wedding of Rachel’s sister Nava Einstein, whose own groom, since Oct. 7, 2023, has spent significant time in Israel Defense Forces service.

HuginaBox and Beyachad support women in Israel

By Deb Silverthorn

When Israelis Rachel and Pdaya Halperin arrived in Dallas last summer, they expected their lives to change and they hoped to change lives. No one could have imagined, just two months after their arrival with the events of Oct. 7, the impact that would ripple here in their adopted home and abroad.

From more than 7,000 miles across the Atlantic, the Halperins’ influence has brought HuginaBox and Beyachad — opportunities to send hugs and support, while creating meaningful relationships — from Dallas’ finest to as many Israel Defense Forces families as possible.

“We are called to bring Torat Yisroel, the ruach and spirit of Israel. Our goal is to remind every Jew there’s a home in Israel and to help them connect wherever they are,” said Rachel. “Of course, we would give back the terror in a minute, but our goal has gotten easier to reach since so many hearts have opened on Oct. 7. People want to hear; they want to learn; and they want to help.”

The couple and their children — Aluma, Ariel, Carmel and Raz — came to Dallas as shluchim, emissaries, to bring love, understanding, learning and a connection to their homeland. Rachel and Pdaya, both born and raised in Israel, work at Akiba Yavneh Academy.

They knew in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7 that they wanted to help family and friends who left their families in a blink to serve in the IDF.

“Akiba Yavneh’s success is driven by the caliber of the talent that joins our team,” said Jason Feld, AYA’s head of school. “Rachel and Pdaya’s commitment to outreach, to shlichut, to Zionism and to giving so much to our children and families, in and out of the classroom, is amazing.

“There is much meaningful work to be done here,” said Feld, “and their positive impact is an absolute blessing.”

The idea soon blossomed for HuginaBox: packages with succulents and organic cosmetics, DIY kits for children, a cup with the inscription “hug in a cup,” a guided writing diary, sweets and more.

Rachel knows many families in Israel whose husbands and fathers have gone to serve in the IDF for many months at a time. She created an answer for the many people here asking, “What can I do?”

“I wanted to be able to help and provide encouragement for my own sisters, friends and other Israeli women whose husbands have been called up,” she said. “These women are stoically running everything alone day by day while also living with constant worry. I realized that from thousands of miles away, we could still send them a ‘hug.’”

Esther Einstein, Rachel’s mother and HuginaBox co-founder, remembers being a young wife and mother at home while her husband served just before the first war with Lebanon. Now she is the mother-in-law of six soldiers and their families; she runs Machane Hineni, a social leadership volunteer program, with many of its participants packing and delivering the HuginaBox items.

Esther is proud of the soldiers’ mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice, and its importance for Am Yisrael, the Jewish people.

“Each one of them is in our tefillot (prayers) every single day. The IDF are hero angels in green. It’s not easy for Rachel and Pdayaduring this turbulent time to be so far from the Israeli reality, but we are proud and happy that they are creating important bonds between the community in Dallas and Israel, threads of Jewish unity that are naturally intertwined,” she said.

“HuginaBox was born out of a mutual understanding that our soldiers fight with their hearts even more than with strategic war tactics,” added Esther. “If they know how much their families are being appreciated, supported and understood they will feel supported too.”

Dallas resident Danielle Mandelsberg’s sister Tamar Bendheim lives in Tzur Hadassah near Jerusalem. Bendheim’s husband, along with nearly 70 others from their community, is serving in the IDF. Danielle, along with Dallas friends Brooke Bloomberg, Amy Eber, Ayala Oster, Marni Rael, Avia Trachtingot and Jenny Winton, helped create Beyachad, a group to connect in the name of togetherness. 

Photo: Courtesy Kim Zoller/ID36o
Kim Zoller, whose sons and daughter-in-law serve in the Israel Defense Forces, led a Zoom meditation program for the women of Beyachad with participants in Dallas and in Israel.

“The husbands got called to their units immediately and the community all but evacuated because there was no security left to defend the wives and children,” said Danielle. “Schools were closed and businesses were struggling.

“Building lifelong bonds is happening in the aftermath of terror,” she says. “Am Yisrael Chai.”

Meira Weinstein, co-owner of Glidough, which makes frozen cookie dough, is one of the beneficiaries of Beyachad’s support both personally and for her business. She, her husband Josh and their four children were visiting family in the U.S. for Sukkot and their flights back to Israel were canceled once the war broke out. Josh was able to get a flight on El Al and immediately began IDF service. He is now in a special forces unit.

Meira, who returned to Israel later, says while in the States she saw the effect on friends and family. She appreciates others’ concern and is happy to help other wives dealing with the same concerns she is.

“It’s so meaningful to have all of the support, to know that in the U.S. people were so affected. We appreciate the people in Dallas who are supporting our community of women in Tzur Hadassah while our husbands are protecting our country and our people,” she said. “It really reinforces how we are truly one nation and one heart. We hold each other’s pain and support each other in our times of need. We are truly grateful.”

The sense of a virtual hug was supplied by Dallasite Kim Zoller, who has led Zoom mindfulness sessions with women from Dallas and Israel. Worried for her own sons and her daughter-in-law who have been serving during this tenuous time, she knows what others are going through.

Jenny Winton connected with Ilana Orrelle-Meltzer and the two bonded over their daughters, Samara and Lee-elle, both of bat mitzvah age. Ilana’s husband, Ross, is a native Canadian like Jenny and her husband, adding to the connection.

They had other things in common as well. Jenny’s grandfather had become a paraplegic in high school but lived his life with purpose and drive in Israel. At the start of the war, Ross was hit while driving his moped delivering supplies to soldiers and lost a leg; he is now recovering at home.

WhatsApp conversations, exchanges of gifts including Rachel Halperin’s “Bondy” box of stories, questions and conversation starters for mothers and daughters all sparked many wonderful conversations.

“The relationship with Jenny is so special and pampering,” said Ilana. “She is taking such good care of us and showing that she cares.”

Seeing the positivity that’s come from connections, donations, friendships and more, Rachel knows her family was sent to just the right place at just the right time.

To participate in the HuginaBox campaign or to make a donation, visit hugina-box.com. To be paired through Beyachad, email rache.halperin@gmail.com.

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