In October, more than 20,000 fit, happy and healthy Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, put whatever baggage they had aside, and went for a run.
As any runner knows, the invigorating experience of running in the open air while adrenaline rushes through the veins is a high like no other. And when that high is used to a promote a good cause, the sense of euphoria and accomplishment is doubled.
Sara Omer was able to experience that firsthand when she participated in the late October run, when every stride she took was for a cause close to her heart: the IDF Widows and Orphans organization.
Now a widow for nearly 10 years, nothing could have prepared her for the news that her husband, Reuven, had been killed in an IDF training exercise. Overnight, the mother of three had to learn how to be a single parent.
She acknowledges the IDFWO’s role in helping her assume such a daunting responsibility. She specifically cites the IDFWO Otzma camps where children can go away – sometimes for as long as week – that enables her to have some much needed down time.
“[The IDFWO helps mothers in my] situation so they can get a break three or four times a year when the children go off to camp so I am able to recharge my batteries and spend some time without the kids. It is a huge thing and can’t be underestimated how much of a help that is,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
The camp’s help for bereaved families is two-fold. Not only does it give a widow time to rest, it also offers children an opportunity to spend time with others who have experienced the same pain.
“They go to camp with hundreds of other kids of all ages who are going through exactly the same thing that they are,” Omer explained. “Most of the time they don’t talk about it at all when they’re in school or with their friends because they fear they won’t be understood or are embarrassed – they don’t want to feel different. At the camp, they don’t have to feel different because they’re all the same.”
Omer, too, is given a chance to share stories and bond with other mothers during the IDFWO fiveday retreat offered once a year.
“Nobody can understand what we’re going through, and it’s still ongoing. We do gain a lot of support from meeting and talking,” she said of talking with other mothers.
As an avid runner, the British olah (immigrant) has used exercise to cope with stress since the birth of her twin boys nearly 16 years ago.
“If I get stressed, and I’m not a person who gets easily stressed, but if I have a moment where things pop up, I straight away get my running gear on and put my headphones on and go out for a run. I come back and it’s all gone,” she said.
So when she decided to enroll in the TLV Night Run with her close friend Stewart Taylor from London, running on behalf of the IDFWO was a natural decision.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of her husband’s death, Omer and Taylor wore a custom made T-shirt that paid tribute to Reuven.
Taylor, who is a personal trainer, was particularly taken by the positive atmosphere that imbued Tel Aviv that night.
“If you experience what the TLV Night run is, it’s an immensely powerful thing. Everyone is fit and healthy and doing something really positive. I got a sense of that even more this year,” said Taylor, who ran the marathon a couple years ago with Omer.
When asked about the run, Stewart is proud to run alongside his long-time friend and raise money for an organization that has come to mean so much for her and her sons.
“There’s no substitute for sharing experiences,” he said. “It was a real healer. From Sara’s point of view, from what I understand, she’s been in an environment where everyone knows what she’s going through and all the feelings that come with that. The emotional support is the biggest impact,” he said.
Together, the two managed to raise £2,012, an amount that could send seven IDF orphans on the Hanukka Otzma camp this month, and is crucial to the non-profit organization’s fund-raising efforts.
In order to make the camps for children, widow retreats, three-week long trips to North America for bar and bat mitzva children and so much more possible, these donations are essential.
“Obviously, donations are so important. If the organization doesn’t see substantial donations from around the world, then there will be fewer camps, fewer opportunities for children to meet up and less opportunity for the mothers to get a break,” she explained.
“I think that this organization is less well known. Certainly in England there are many charities for injured soldiers and generally for Israel. But I think the IDFWO is a lesser known organization that is so worthwhile. I know from conversations I have from other army widows that feel it’s been incredibly helpful,” she said.
Taylor, too, is glad he was able to do his part to help.
“Sometimes you do work for charities and they aren’t very helpful, these guys were really good and they helped me with the fund-raising page. I think they did a marvelous job,” he said.
To learn more/ get involved or donate, visit: www.idfwo.org/eng.
This article was written in cooperation with the IDFWO.