Stern Student Tehila Bitton is Bringing Chessed to YU

By: Aaron Shaykevich  |  October 17, 2023

By Aaron Shaykevich, Editor-in-Chief

The war between Israel and Hamas has united Jews around the world to come together to support Israel. As the YU Observer has highlighted, many Yeshiva University (YU) student leaders are taking action and working to make a practical difference in the lives of Israeli civilians and soldiers. I recently had the privilege to speak with Stern student Tehila Bitton, who is one of the students spearheading a collaboration between Yeshiva University and a non-profit called Soldiers Save Lives

Soldiers Save Lives is an organization that sends supplies to Israel from the U.S. for the IDF. “This amazing organization started off in people’s houses in the Five Towns,” Tehila said. “Now, they managed to get flights chartered to Israel and are directly in contact with Israel and the IDF… and they have a full warehouse.” 

Needless to say, the organization is growing at a rapid pace and setting itself up to really make a difference for Israeli soldiers. On their website, Soldiers Save Lives boasts 4 flights chartered, as well as over 1300+ duffle bags and 12,500 “soft-aid items” donated. The presence of Soldiers Save Lives is now much larger than just in the Five Towns, as evident by the fact that they were recently interviewed by Fox News.

The origin of Soldiers Save Lives is an impactful story on its own. “Soldiers Save Lives started when David Newman went missing,” Tehila told me. “His friends went looking for him, and took supplies with them… they realized [that those in the IDF] need[ed] supplies.” Unfortunately, David had passed away, Barukh Dian Haemet (blessed is the true judge, God), but David’s friends could not unsee the need the Israeli soldiers had. Soldiers Save Lives now is now dedicated in the memory and L’zchus (for the commendation) of David Newman.

Tehila now works with Soldiers Save Lives, and she is one of a couple YU students who brought the organization to the YU community. “I found out about Soldiers Save Lives from a WhatsApp chat called Sefira with the brethren,” said Tehila. “It was the day after the news broke out, we were all feeling helpless and desperate to do anything for the situation, and then I saw this flier about people collecting supplies in their front yard, and there were so many Jews there, wanting to help. From there, the Soldiers Save Lives chat sprang, and the initiative has only grown since.”

For Tehila, bringing the mission of Soldiers Save Lives to YU was a necessity. “YU wasn’t really organizing anything yet,” she shared, “we have so much power in YU and so many ways to help and we are not doing anything that is directly going to Israel.” From my conversation with her, it became clear that Tehila has a strong desire to make a tangible difference and wishes to share that desire with others. She emphasized that “we should do anything we can to help.”

Soldiers Save Lives is now working with YU (specifically, with the Office of Student Life [OSL]) to ensure that YU students have a way to donate. A list of supplies needed was sent out to the YU student body, and donation bins are currently set up in the lobbies of Rubin and 245 Lexington. This is just a small part of the larger picture for Soldiers Save Lives at YU, and a “huge packing event is possible for the entire school.” Tehila emphasized that these events can only be possible with the support and proactivity of the YU community. 

Tehila’s message is something I believe all YU students should be aware of. “Like [YU president] Rabbi Berman said, we are all being called to duty.” She made it clear that “we want to see initiative and proactivity. It’s important to say tehillim and pray but it’s also important to fulfill the actual need [on the ground].” In order for Soldiers Save Lives to function, Tehila implied that they heavily rely on donations and assistance from the public. For Soldiers Save Lives at YU, this means YU students and faculty need to step up. She made clear: “this is a call to action for all YU students to be proactive in any way possible.”

I spoke to Tehila about what the partnership with YU means for her and the organization. Tehila emphasized that “as soon as we reached out to OSL, we got a quick and positive response. They were happy to work with us and help us with this initiative.” However, she shared that the partnership created some difficulty. “If you want something to happen in YU, you really have to push” and that in YU there is “no immediate proactive response, there is a lot of bureaucracy, even the approval of a simple flier is a long multi-stepped process.” Tehila emphasized the significance of working alongside YU, but it is apparent that it wasn’t easy.

Tehila’s message to students was clear: “we are not okay. There are so many different feelings at once, and it is important to channel those emotions into productivity. Things need to be done. Be compassionate with yourself. This is something never experienced before, any feelings [you have are] normal,” Tehila said. 

As the interview concluded, it became apparent to me the impact students like Tehila are having on those in Israel. At this time, students are proving themselves to be true leaders who are willing to make a change through tough times and challenges.

“I have a lot of friends and family in Israel, and they are all shocked by our support and how much we care. They have all been really really moved. They’ve been telling me how everyone has been making a direct impact, and [they] don’t feel alone, [they] feel the support of all the Jews in the world. One week ago we were on the brink of a civil war, and now [the Jewish nation has] never been more united.”