Toys for tots

Expanding its focus, Chai Lifeline distributes thousands of toys to displaced Israeli kids

The initiative was the nonprofit’s Israel branch’s largest-ever toy drive — with more than 7,000 toys distributed in Israel, more than double its usual number

Chai Lifeline, which provides services for children and families facing medical crises, is accustomed to putting smiles on children’s faces during Hanukkah with its annual toy drive. But this year, in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, it is expanding its reach to a special group of children and families.

“In addition to running programming and counseling for those displaced families, we are also providing the children with toys this Hanukkah,” Matt Yaniv, a Chai Lifeline spokesperson, told eJewishPhilanthropy

The organization’s annual toy drive, which distributes more than 50,000 gifts to children living with severe illness worldwide, also included thousands of gifts to families in Israel doubly impacted by illness and the ongoing war against Hamas, many of whom were displaced from their homes on Oct. 7. The initiative is the largest-ever toy drive of Chai Lifeline’s Israel branch – with more than 7,000 toys distributed in Israel, more than double its usual number.

Yaniv noted that the effort “doesn’t really come from major donors, although we do work with toy stores who provide discounts.” Rather, he said, “It’s largely community driven. It’s driven mainly by the masses, through social media, toy drives in schools and synagogues, when people go shopping for toys for their own kids, they are thinking about other kids in need right now.” 

Throughout Hanukkah, contributors could find Amazon wish lists online to be able to donate to the drive. Gifts were delivered in homes or hospital rooms, while others received their toys at local Chai Lifeline Hanukkah parties. 

Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline, said in a statement that the goal of the drive is to “provide [children and families] with a beacon of hope during these dark and difficult times.”

Yaniv called the unprecedented inclusion of children hit by war into the toy drive “the least we can do as a community and organization.” 

“This was a natural outgrowth of what we do,” Yaniv continued. “We provide care for children and their families going through medical crises and trauma, and this is the largest trauma the Jewish community has faced in our lifetime. What better way to let those kids know we are thinking of them?”