Bracha Strimber’s passion for supporting American military personnel dates back to a life-changing experience more than four decades ago.
A Pikesville resident, widow, mother of two and grandmother, Strimber was attending Temple University and living in her native Philadelphia, where her father helped build ships in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. During this period, she had the opportunity to meet soldiers just returning home from the Vietnam War.
It left a lasting impression. “I saw people my age coming back from war, many of whom had no arms or legs,” Strimber recalls. “I came to the shocking realization of what the cost of freedom truly was. These soldiers sacrificed so much for our country, and I vowed to do what I could to support them.”
For nearly three decades, Strimber, a lifelong sewer, has created hundreds of pillowcases to send to U.S. troops in care packages. She started in 1990 during Operation Desert Shield, the buildup military campaign leading to the first Gulf War in 1991.
“God gave me a gift of knowing how to sew, and I felt it was my obligation to use that gift to help other people, including those men and women protecting our country overseas,” Strimber says.
Strimber — who creates similar pillowcases for newborn babies and their mothers in hospitals — recently found a way to support American Jewish military personnel in particular. She has connected with KosherTroops.com, a New Hempstead, N.Y.-based organization founded to improve the morale and welfare of Jewish members of the armed forces. According to its website, KosherTroops.com sends holiday care packages that include items to help Jewish soldiers celebrate the holidays and Shabbat to feel connected to the Jewish community while serving away from home.
“There are always efforts in place to send servicemen and servicewomen care packages on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not necessarily during the Jewish holidays,” Strimber says. “I was glad to find an organization that is willing to do that.”
Strimber, who belongs to Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim Synagogue in Pikesville, wanted to find a way to make her latest endeavor more personable and meaningful. As the middle school English department chair at Pikesville’s Talmudical Academy, she turned to some of her students for help. During the course of several Sundays, Strimber recently worked with 14 middle school students, mostly eighth-graders, at her home on the project.
Strimber first taught the boys how to sew before helping each of them create personalized pillowcases. The 60 pillowcases were sent recently to KosherTroops.com, to be included in Passover care packages for deployed Jewish soldiers stationed in such countries as Afghanistan. She also made sure that each student included a personal note to soldiers along with the pillowcase as a show of solidarity.
“I think writing the notes gave the students an additional sense of why this project was important,” says Strimber, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade honors English classes at TA. “One student created a superhero-themed pillowcase and included the note, ‘I made this superhero pillowcase for you because you are my superhero.’ I think by the time they were done, the boys understood why what they were doing mattered.”
The students’ parents were appreciative of the life lessons Strimber was instilling in their children. “This project taught them an appreciation for our servicemen and women,” says Tanya Gerstman, whose 13-year-old son, Menachem, is an eighth-grader at TA. “Getting a pillowcase is not a big deal for [the students] but for the soldiers, any connection to home has to be great.”
Ariella Grunhut, whose son Uri, 13, also participated in the project, says including the personal note really resonated with the students.
“The note really made it a personal connection,” she says. “It was also great to see that they learned how to sew, a skill that is outside their comfort zone. Going to an all-boys school, much of their life outside of class centers around sports, so it was nice to see them learn about something that normally they would not have thought about.”
Ron Snyder is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.