Israel tech sector comes together to support children who lost parents in Oct. 7 attacks, war

Israel Children’s Fund looks to provide for the hundreds of children who lost one or both parents in the massacres, has raised more than $20 million so far

Lior Krengel worked in high-tech for 16 years, including a six-year stint at the project management software company Monday[dot]com, until the devastation of the Oct. 7 terror attacks forced her to reconsider her life’s focus: helping the country, specifically the children who lost one or both parents in the massacres.

“[The attacks were] a wake-up call for me that our country needs everyone to be joining and helping and supporting. This is for all of us now to take care of,” Krengel told eJewishPhilanthropy. She spent five months volunteering with evacuees from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, who had been relocated to Kibbutz Shefayim in central Israel.

“Everything is broken for them,” said Krengel, who now serves as the CEO of the nonprofit Atufim B’Ahava (“Wrapped In Love,” but known in English as the Israeli Children’s Fund).

“Some witnessed [one or both of] their parents murdered, others had to hide in a closet for 30 hours. All of them are refugees in their own country, many lost their best friends, other siblings,” she added. “We need to make sure they’re fully supported and as fast as possible. Otherwise, those orphans today are the youth at risk tomorrow.”

More than 643 children have lost one or both of their parents in the Oct. 7 terror attacks and the subsequent war in Gaza and fighting along Israel’s northern border, according to a recent study by Israel’s Knesset Research and Information Center. Of these, 251 are the sons and daughters of civilians killed in the massacres, while the rest are the children of fallen members of the country’s security services.

Shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel’s high-tech sector mobilized to contribute funds and expertise toward creating a system of support for these children as they encounter major milestones and minor moments over the next 25 years. 

“[It] started off as an emergency thing,” Krengel said, adding that initial efforts — including the distribution of more than $500,000 during the first weeks of the war — focused on the immediate future. 

Now ICF is taking a longer-term view, building governance, infrastructure, partnerships and solid foundations, organizationally and financially, she said. 

“I have to make sure that we build it efficiently, that every dollar, every shekel that is given, is needed,” Krengel said. “It’s not replacing government money, [or] another organization’s money. It’s needed, [and there are] “a lot of partnerships, a lot of hands that need to be connected and held, so that we are all supporting them efficiently.” 

She noted that ICF also brought together the four different funds and organizations aiming to support children who lost both parents on Oct. 7. ICF, however, is the only organization that is specifically dedicated to aiding all children who lost at least one parent — and in many cases, also their homes, siblings and friends. (The Israel Defense Forces’ Widows and Orphans Organization also supports children who lost even one parent, but only if that parent was part of Israel’s security services.)

The Israeli government has committed to supporting the children who lost a parent who were under the age of 21 at the time of the attacks, covering most of their school tuition fees, for instance. However, Krengel noted that this would not cover the financial support that young adult children typically receive from their parents. This is especially true with the 82% of cases ICF is handling, in which the father — often the primary if not the sole source of income — was killed. And children who were over 21 at the time of the massacre would not receive this funding, which ICF is trying to rectify on a “case-by-case” basis.

“There’s no one rule. It’s a very complex system and we’re building it with all the sensitivity in the world,” she said.

Former tech CEO and member of ICF’s founding team Marni Mandell told eJP that philanthropically, ICF has an ambitious goal: to raise the needed funds within an 18-month period, while it’s still top of mind for donors. So far, the nonprofit has already had more than 2,000 donors over six months raising upwards of $20 million, towards an $80 million fund. 

One supporter, actor Mark Feuerstein, perhaps best known for his lead role in the procedural TV series “Royal Pains,” became involved after attending a benefit for the ICF at the home of his friend, angel investor and ICF supporter Joseph Varet. 

“[After that] I knew I would do what I could for this cause,” Feuerstein told eJP. “These kids are the future of Israel — if we want Israel to remain strong in the face of suicidal jihadists, we will need this next generation.” 

“I often worry about imposing on people to give, but in this case I genuinely felt, ‘I am giving people the opportunity to do a mitzvah, to give to a just and noble cause,’” Feuerstein added. “I hope and pray each of these children gets to live a normal life with what’s left of their families, that they have the means to pay for food, shelter and a full education, a normal life to compensate for the abnormal, tragic and traumatic day they were forced to live on Oct. 7.” Feuerstein has, to date, raised more than $25,000 for the ICF.

As of publication, the fund is helping 408 kids (ages 0-25), who require individual solutions to meet their needs. Krengel said that the approach is to provide for different-sized “bricks” on the road ahead. Big bricks center on major events or milestones in the lives of Israeli children as they grow to adulthood, such as bar and bat mitzvah commemorations, completing high school and the long process of becoming an IDF soldier; and then, getting a higher education getting married, having children — moments when parents would step in with financial, mental and operational support. 

Small bricks, Krengel explained, might include finding someone to take one child to school so the parent can participate in a different after-school activity; or funding hobbies or rituals that children had with their deceased parent.

Whatever path a child chooses, they will also benefit from the fund, Mandell said.

“If a child wants to become a hairdresser, we want to support them in their aspirations. If a child wants to become an astrophysicist, we want to support them in their aspirations without defining right and wrong, good and bad” professional choices, Mandell said. “We want to make sure every child has the ability to thrive in the way that they want to.”

“We are not here to give them a new identity, we are here to help them with their own dreams, their own aspirations, their own goals,” Krengel said.

The criteria for support can be confusing, but with a base of tech professionals leading ICF’s efforts, improving clarity is on the agenda. The leadership is creating a tech platform, where needs can be cataloged and assessed; and a chatbot that will walk survivors through questions that will inform them of their benefits, such as scholarships. 

”We want to make sure that what we’re doing is what they need us for,” she added.

The fact that many of ICF’s supporters and leadership come from tech has led to valuable connections “beyond money,” said Mandell. For example, teenage children who are interested in tech may be able to access ICF leadership as mentors in that field.

ICF’s leadership reiterates that — by strategy and design — most of the programs they fund are executed by existing organizations that tackle specific types of support for survivor families: summer camps or mentorship programs, for example. With ICF bringing the kids, financial support and resources, and those organizations bringing knowledge and expertise, working together creates an impact.

“We don’t have any reason to rebuild things and to replace those organizations. So we’re building with them,” she said. 

Right now, ICF is estimating the need at $200,000 per child, and the organization’s financial model accounts for inflation and other unpredictable variants, Krengel said. 

With this safety net in place, ICF leaders hope that mothers or other guardians will have the breathing room to focus on the day-to-day needs of their families, and to start healing from their own trauma.

“We don’t want to take independence and autonomy from them; the idea is to support [the caregivers] enough so that they can take their own lives back and control their own journeys,” Krengel said, “so they can move from survival mode to thriving. Then they are on their own, like everyone else.”

The fund also factors in the dignity of grant recipients by giving the money to them to use themselves, instead of paying the bill from the fund, which would label them as “a kid without a father or mother,” Krengel said.

“We all know when we look back to history, when we look back to the Holocaust, we see great stories of heroes and leaders that came out of this [trauma], built amazing lives and did great things for humanity. At the same time, we have too many stories of people that ended up in poverty,” Krengel said. “We are here to ensure that kids who lost one of their parents on Oct. 7 are all taken care of and that no one ends up being forgotten. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that all children have the opportunity to thrive.”