January 16, 2019

Holiday packages for Jewish service members

Bel-Air may be a long way from Afghanistan, but the distance seemed a little closer on a recent rainy Sunday. At the home of Joan Rimmon, a cadre of volunteers was assembling care packages for Jewish servicemen and -women deployed abroad. Although Thanksgiving was just days away, these packages were geared for Chanukah.

Each box would contain a menorah and chocolate Chanukah gelt, as well as a CD of Jewish music. They would be lovingly filled with handwritten letters of thanks, and hand-knit kippot and scarves. Also jammed into the 8.5-by-11.5-by-5-inch boxes would be a variety of personal care items and snacks — all certified kosher, of course.

The story of how Rimmon’s house was taken over by Project MOT began with her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah in 2004. The child was born on Flag Day and wanted do a patriotic activity for her mitzvah project. The family arranged for guests to help pack 250 care packages for Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends more than 100,000 care packages annually to military personnel around the globe.

Rimmon was impressed and began to volunteer for Operation Gratitude, first completing customs forms for packages and then taking over as supervisor for greeting cards (the group sends blank cards for soldiers to use). She and another volunteer, Marsha Roseman, were asked by the program’s founder, Carolyn Blashek, to reach out to Jewish service members, and Project MOT was born.

“It’s kind of taken over our lives,” Rimmon said.

Project MOT’s first shipment — to 20 recipients — went out for Passover 2008. The group now sends packages three times a year: at Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah. That Sunday’s shipment will reach about 150 individuals in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Kosovo and Djibouti. A contact in Germany will disburse boxes to Special Operations personnel.

About 40 volunteers showed up to help assemble the packages. Some, like Susan and Stanley Kolker, had learned about Project MOT after meeting Rimmon at Operation Gratitude. They and other congregants from Valley Outreach Synagogue had volunteered with Operation Gratitude on Mitzvah Day, and the Kolkers continue to volunteer at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, where supplies are gathered year-round. Others were members of TOLA — Tikkun Olam Los Angeles — a new Jewish volunteer group geared to Jews between 18 and 30 years old.

Project MOT receives some items from Operation Gratitude, as well as from individuals and groups. They are always looking for donations including letters and cards of thanks to the troops, kosher snacks and candy, small games and puzzle books, and personal-size hygiene items. Financial donations are also appreciated. Rimmon, who is already starting to collect for the Passover 2012 shipment, asks that people who have Jewish friends or family deployed abroad contact her with names so they can receive packages.

“My uncle was in the Air Force in World War II. My cousin recently retired as an admiral, and his son is a captain in the Navy. I even had a relative who fought in the Civil War,” she said. “I just feel that these guys … whatever their jobs, they’re away from their families, and the least we can do is tell them thank you and that we haven’t forgotten them.”

Judging by a scrapbook filled with thank-you notes, the message has been received.

“Everything was so thoughtful and will ensure the best Passover possible far away from home,” wrote one sergeant serving in Tal Afar, Iraq.

“It is so wonderful to know people care about us as we serve our country far from home,” wrote another service member.

After receiving last year’s Chanukah packages, a rabbi, writing from Afghanistan said, “I cannot begin to tell you how much your generous care packages have raised the morale of our soldiers here in Afghanistan. Everyone who has received something from you has been smiling from ear to ear.”

For more information or to donate to Project MOT, visit this article at jewishjournal.com.