“An army marches on its stomach,” goes the famous quote by Napoleon. For many IDF soldiers, make that a belly full of barbecue, thanks to the Grilling for IDF organization.
For the past few years, the nonprofit has been supplementing the IDF’s menu with delectable grilled meats as a treat for hungry soldiers.
On his way to put on a barbecue for a group of soldiers in Mitzpe Ramon recently, one of the organization’s co-founders, 61-year-old American immigrant Elliot Auerbacher, described how his team members show up at a base or an “in the field” location and set up everything, including lights and water, if needed. They then fire up their grills, prep the meats, and cook.
An invaluable boost in IDF morale
Auerbacher believes that the effect these barbecues have on morale is invaluable. The soldiers see that “you don’t know their name, you don’t know anything about them, and yet you’re coming there to do this for them!
“They ask, ‘Why are you here? Why are you doing this for us?’ And we tell them, ‘Because of your work, we’re able to sleep [soundly] in our beds every night.’
“These guys deserve our time and effort, money and love because they are doing the work that keeps our country safe,” he said.
“These guys deserve our time and effort, money and love because they are doing the work that keeps our country safe.”
Auerbacher and his wife made aliyah in 2015 from Englewood, New Jersey. He also has three adult daughters living in Israel. In 2020, he and Grilling for IDF co-founder David Kaplan hosted the organization’s first barbecue.
Soldiers report that the quality and amount of food varies between locations and branches of service. Particularly for those soldiers who are stationed at isolated and remote posts, Grilling for IDF provides exactly what is needed to create the boost in morale that motivates Auerbacher to invest his time, effort, and money into the nonprofit.
“We make burgers at every barbecue. It’s our most popular item,” he said. “Sometimes we make pastrami burgers just to up the ante a little bit. We serve steak fingers on a regular basis, and we’ve started serving hummus with meat.” They also have various other steak and vegetarian options.
Auerbacher stressed that the organization takes the stance that the IDF is diligent in sufficiently feeding its soldiers, but the little bit more that Grilling for IDF provides makes a tremendous difference. In fact, the group members regard their impact as so vital that it’s no longer simply a thoughtful voluntary act. It’s a duty.
“We are no longer thinking of ourselves as just serving food to soldiers. If we’re able to raise the morale of a unit, it’s no longer [just] a nice thing to do. It’s something that we have to do,” he asserted. “That we can raise the morale of our soldiers – now we have an obligation.”
IT’S AN obligation that they are fulfilling, as participation in the organization is growing at a rapid rate. In 2021, the Grilling for IDF website reported that the organization fed 1,500 soldiers. In 2022, Auerbacher said, they hosted 38 dinners that fed roughly 4,400 soldiers.
They hope to continue growing in 2023, but one of the factors that could hinder that goal is a lack of resources. A given dinner may cost Grilling for IDF $25 to $40 per soldier, in addition to other costs associated with the set-up, such as equipment and travel.
Simply put, with more funding, “we would do more barbecues,” Auerbacher asserted.
Additionally, donations to the tax-deductible organization would advance them toward their goal of securing a mobile kitchen. A basic kitchen equipped with grills, cool boxes, lights and other such items would cut costs and preparation time dramatically.
Word spreads quickly among army units. While Grilling for IDF is increasing the number and the size of dinners it is able to execute, the demand for them is also increasing. People “are passing around our phone numbers from one person to the next,” Auerbacher said. As a result, the NGO has all over the country to host the dinners. “We’ve been down to the Gaza border, we’ve been to the Syrian border…. We’re nimble.”
The Grilling for IDF website is full of testimonials of soldiers expressing their gratitude for the organization. Auerbacher said that IDF veterans often joke about their jealousy that Grilling for IDF wasn’t around when they were in the service.
For those currently in the military, however, the fact that this organization is there to prepare for them the kind of uplifting, soul-nourishing food that it does, makes a world of difference. ❖
Grilling for IDF is hosting a barbecue for soldiers this Sunday from 7-10 p.m. in Shilat, just north of Modi’in. RSVP: +1-201-615-0222, Whatsapp; 058-615-0222 phone.
Those who want to get involved in a barbecue can go to grillingforidf.com and click on the “contact” tab to write to the organization. They can also find the email addresses for Elliot Auerbacher and David Kaplan there.