The groundbreaking ceremony for Habayit shel Benji, the home for lone soldiers to be built in Ra'anana in memory of Major Benji Hillman, a company commander in the elite Egoz unit, took place at the site this afternoon. Benji was killed in Lebanon in July 2006, just three weeks after his wedding.
Hundreds of people attended the ceremony. It was a very emotional event, particularly for Benji’s wife, Ayala, his parents, siblings, other family members and his many friends. It was very moving when Danny Hillman, Benji’s father, made special mention of the other soldiers who were killed with Benji in Maroun al-Ras. Relatives of those soldiers were at the ceremony.
The idea of perpetuating Benji’s memory in this way took shape during the shiva week, and I’ve been involved with the project almost from the beginning. I never had the privilege of meeting Benji during his lifetime, but over the past three years I feel I have got to know him.
Benji was an exemplary IDF officer. He cared deeply about the young men in his command, and this project, the first dedicated home for lone soldiers in Israel, is a particularly fitting way of continuing his legacy. “Lone soldiers” is the term used to describe soldiers who are here from abroad, or who come from very deprived backgrounds in Israel. Habayit shel Benji will provide a warm home to fifty lone combat soldiers who do not have a proper home and family support.
Although I always knew this was an important project, I’m even more aware of how necessary it is now that my own son is a combat soldier.
The minute he arrives home on leave for the weekend – which may be once a fortnight, or even once every three weeks - the countdown begins to get everything done before he has to go back early Sunday morning. There is at least one load of washing and sometimes there are other things to attend to, such as fixing his mobile phone. Logistical help and loving support from their families helps combat soldiers have time to catch up on sleep, eat well, meet friends and simply relax.
Staffed by a house mother and supported by volunteers, Habayit shel Benji will offer lone soldiers laundry service, meals, leisure activities and, equally important, warmth, care and attention.
After intense efforts by Benji’s family, most of the money has been raised to begin building.
The groundbreaking ceremony is a milestone. But in reality it’s just the beginning. More funds will be needed as the building progresses, and then to equip and run the home.
To view a film in which a lone soldier talks about Benji: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adgR-QQSOS0