Monday, June 10, 2013

In Benji’s Memory: A Place for Lone Soldiers to Call Home

HaBayit Shel Benji is named for Benji Hillman, a British-born IDF soldier who fell in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. It now hosts 50 lone soldiers.
Benji Hillman
Benji Hillman
Benji Hillman and the rest of his family immigrated to Israel from London in 1983. He joined the Israel Defense Forces in 1998, going on to serve as an officer. Benji was sent to the front lines during the Second Lebanon War.  Three weeks after his wedding, he fell in combat.
Years later, his parents decided to commemorate his life by founding HaBayit Shel Benji – Hebrew for “Benji’s house” – a home for IDF combat lone soldiers. This brand-new housing complex, located in Ra’anana, provides lone soldiers with food, housing, friends and support. In other words, a home away from home.

Lone soldiers relaxing at HaBayit Shel Benji
Each one of the 50 soldiers living at HaBayit Shel Benji receives a private room for the entire duration of his or her army service. The building features a large living room and lounge, equipped with video game consoles and board games, giving the soldiers a place to unwind after a stressful week.
Soldiers playing video games in the lounge
“Before coming here, I moved so many times. My bags were always packed and I was usually alone,” one of the soldiers explains. “Now, I’m actually excited for the weekend because I know that I will not be coming to an empty house. Small touches, like having heating, make a huge difference.”

A Home Away From Home

HaBayit Shel Benji is run by a professional staff with years of experience. More than 250 volunteers help out as well, not only providing logistical support but also broadening the soldiers’ social circles.
“I know the house is still there for me,” explains a soldier who recently finished his army service and now volunteers at HaBayit Shel Benji. “Knowing that someone still cares about me is the most reassuring thing. Whenever I come back to the house as a volunteer, I feel it even more. I never stay away for long.”
Soldiers lounging around
In addition to housing, each one of the soldiers is paired up with a local family who provides him or her with moral support. One of these families’ roles is to attend their soldiers’ military ceremonies, providing them with the encouragement that they may otherwise lack.
HaBayit Shel Benji also hosts an education and guidance center available to all lone soldiers. Through a mix of group classes and individual support, it provides guidance during the transition from army to civilian life. Soldiers are given guidance with activities such as enrolling in university, renting an apartment, getting a driver’s license and finding a job.
If you find this story interesting, click here to read more about IDF soldiers.

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