October 15, 2019

30 under 30: Brocha Yemini and Chaya Israily

Opening their hearts to wounded Israeli soldiers

The 10 Israeli soldiers who traveled to Los Angeles in June with the fledgling organization Lev Chayal had been variously blown up, run over and crushed by rubble. One has his own death certificate as a souvenir of the time his heart stopped.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at their smiling faces in photos taken at Knott’s Berry Farm, in the Dodgers dugout and posing on Hollywood Boulevard.

The young men were enthusiastic and humbled by the experience — much like the two women responsible for bringing them there, Chaya Israily and Brocha Yemini.

Preparation for the June trip began in February, shortly after the two childhood friends decided to create Lev Chayal, which translates to “heart of a soldier.” The idea came from a careful vetting of what organizations in L.A. already were aiding Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.

“There were other organizations taking care of the IDF part, the soldier part, the glory of the army, the ranks and the glam and glitz of it,” said Yemini, 24, sitting across from her friend at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Pico Boulevard. “We were like, ‘Let’s take a different perspective. ’ ”

The plan was simple: Create an opportunity for wounded Israeli soldiers to come to L.A. and relax while enriching the local community through their presence and their stories. While Israel amply honors its fallen soldiers, those who get back up from grievous injuries aren’t afforded quite the same attention, they said. “Their lives do go on, but they don’t,” Israily, 24, said.

Soon, the local pair began to assemble the necessary $75,000, along with the connections and resources they needed to make the June trip happen. It helped that Yemini’s parents, Rabbi Amitai and Fayge Yemini, are the co-directors of the Chabad Israel Center, which serves as a community center for Israeli Americans in Los Angeles.

They found people were eager to offer up anything they could. The owners of the Four Seasons hotel on Doheny Drive, Robert and Beverly Cohen, provided them with free rooms. Dodgers President Stan Kasten invited the soldiers onto the field at Dodger Stadium. Philanthropist Marvin Markowitz offered the two organizers funding and free event space for a gala dinner.

Preparations went on for five months, with the pair carefully balancing the effort with their work lives — Yemini is the director of Camp Gan Israel, the Chabad Israel Center’s day camp, and Israily runs a line of modest clothing, Solika.

As soon as the soldiers landed at Los Angeles International Airport, they were a hit. A photographer and videographer had been contracted to document the trip.

“Everybody at the airport was like, ‘What’s going on? Who are these people?’ ” Israily said.

Their semi-celebrity status persisted through public outings and trips to coffee shops, where bystanders were curious and eager to hear of the soldiers’ experiences. They told their stories to children at Camp Gan Israel and for a video that played at the gala.

Since the June trip ended, Israily and Yemini have begun planning for another one in February. And after that, they already have plans to travel to Israel to meet with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and supporters of their organization in the Knesset.

“We are incredibly grateful to everybody that opened up their doors, opened up their hearts, opened up their wallets, that believed in our mission, that believed in what we’re doing,” Yemini said.

Israily interjected, “It was a team effort.”