My Bears from Bergenfield story is about two children who never met but their lives are intertwined forever.
Aby LItle, age 14 from Tenafly, NJ was studying in school for the year in a Tel Aviv/Hertziliya area international school. Her parents were missionaries sent by their church Grace Lutheran located on River Edge Road in Tenafly. Aby wanted to keep up her studies. It was that day that she was traveling home on the bus on Highway #1 towards her home when some terrorist managed to step into her bus and up the stairs as the door closed behind him. The story goes, that Aby had just stood up from her seat in the middle of the bus, to offer her seat to an elderly woman when the terrorist detonated the body bombs. If Aby had stayed seated, she might have had a slim chance to survive….if, if..many ifs…
My son Sam, age 10 at that time, a student at Beth Israel Hebrew school suggested that we switch from our project of our post 9/11 Twinning BFF pins with Israeli children to collecting and shipping slightly used teddy bears to them. Someone had given him a teddy bear while he was hospitalized. Perhaps we could pay that gesture, forward, he suggested. He explained to me that any child understands a teddy bear to hug and have as their new best friend. We decided to call our project Bears from Bergenfield.
He was asked to make a presentation at our Hebrew school about his idea. We received our first Build a bear donation basketball player that following week.
I didn’t imagine how many bears we might collect or how long this project would continue….I was hoping for 100. But what would inspire me to keep this project going?
My family happened to be invited to Ilana Atwater’s bat mitzvah that year and our family was seated together at the same table. Sam happened to look down to see what was situated next to our place seatings. It was a memory bracelet put out by One Family Fund fundraiser to remember the victims of terror in Israel. At that point, there were only 365 victims of terror…written on his bracelet was the name Aby Litle, Tenafly, NJ. I had the chills. I had read about her story in the Bergen Record and the Jewish Standard. I had visited with the local school’s principal, who had told me that he worshipped with Aby’s family in his church. What were the chances that Aby Litle’s bracelet would be placed at our table?
I was reinspired to keep the project going.
Fast forward to 2007. Sam was invited by me to visit Israel and distribute the toys to children in hospitals, including children in Haifa, where Aby Litle had been living. My daughter, Shira and I had just returned from a teddy bear mission trip. We had stopped by Ohr Hadash temple in Haifa where we had met with the Rabbi. He had taken us on the route where the terrorist had blown himself and the bus up. We saw the marker that remembered Aby Litle, that listed her as having been on that bus. I told Sam that I wanted to show him that same marker that had listed her name. I wanted him to see the connection between the bracelet that we had seen on Ilana’s bat mitzvah table and that Aby had once been a student, living her life like any other child. So we told Sam about the marker in Haifa and took him there to see it.
We returned to go back to school here in Bergenfield and work at Temple Israel. I happened to be in the lobby of Temple Israel and overheard that Zahal Shalom was coming to visit for a two week period. I had never heard of the group before. I found out that each year, a group of dedicated Zionists from Bergen County, brought over a group of wounded soldiers to be housed and entertained. I asked if any of my kids could stop by and hand deliver some teddy bears over to the group to take back to the soldiers’ children or other relatives.
This marked the beginning of our relationship with Zahal Shalom. Richard Schnaittacher invited us to deliver a bag of toys and gave them to Meir, who was living in Kfar Saba. This was significant to us since we ship 1000s of toys to the Wolfes who are living in Kfar Saba, every year. The group or someone in their group has been bringing a teddy bear bag or duffel of toys to Israeli children who were wounded because they were Israelis, living in Israel.
We have shared our story with a few involved with Zahal Shalom. It has been many years of giving 100s of toys over to bring to Israel. We appreciate the kindness that has been extended to us from Zahal Shalom. We wish this group continued growth and success in their outreach and establishing ties within the Zahal community.