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Monday, May 28, 2007

Honoring our dead - and helping the living

A fitting memorial to a hero...
By Barak Ravid
A march held Friday in memory of a special forces officer killed in the Second Lebanon War, British-born Major Benji Hillman, drew some 1,500 participants. The march in the fields near Ra'anana - including family, friends, and members of his army unit Egoz - also aimed to raise funds to set up Benji's House, a hostel that will offer a home to dozens of soldiers whose families live abroad.
Hillman was a company commander in Egoz, a special forces unit of the Golani Brigade. On July 20, a week into last year's war, he led his troops into Maroun al-Ras, a hotbed of Hezbollah activity. The force encountered heavy resistance and Hillman and three of his soldiers were killed.
Hillman had gotten married three weeks earlier and managed to spend a weekend with his new wife Ayala at their new home in Modi'in before the war broke out.
After the funeral, his family and friends sought a way to commemorate Benji, and they focused on the care he took of his soldiers. At first they decided to create a fund that would raise money for various projects assisting soldiers who have no relatives in Israel.
They then began work on Benji's House, the first major project. The idea is to set up a home capable of housing some 50 soldiers who have no families in Israel or who come from broken homes. They would be able to spend weekends there and even stay after they complete their military service.
The hostel will be supported by volunteers, offering the soldiers financial support, laundry service, meals, access to computers for communicating with their families abroad, and help in finding work and continuing their education after their service. Most of all, the home will be there to offer warmth and support.
The Hillman family is planning to raise $2 million in Israel and abroad, and has already secured $1.5 million. The Ra'anana municipality also rallied to the cause and agreed to offer a plot of land for establishing the home.
The planning for the construction is being finalized, and the family is hoping that construction will begin in a few months. Barring any unexpected delays, the hostel will be ready by late 2008.
Friday's march is the first of what is expected to become an annual tradition in Ra'anana.

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