The story goes like this: Joseph Berman enlisted in the Marines at 18, and soon after found himself in Kuwait, fighting in Operation Desert Storm. On base one day, he noticed enemy soldiers approaching on foot, and ordered them to stand down. Then, he really saw them — malnourished, holes in their shoes, barely able to stay on their feet. Berman lowered his weapon and gave his extra boots to one man, and his fellow soldiers followed suit, giving their boots to their counterparts as well.
That story has always stuck with Lance Cpl. Berman’s daughter, Toby Berman, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Toby, 17, has been especially inspired by that story since her father’s death four years ago.
Now, she’s decided to stage her own version o f that story.
In honor her father’s passing, Toby, with her mother Connie’s assistance, has started a shoe drive, thus far collecting more than 300 pairs. They will be donated to Soles4Soul, a nonprofit that distributes shoes to people in need all over the world.
“That story always really made me proud and happy of what my dad did, and to [want] to give back to people who don’t have everything that they need,” Toby said.
The idea began with a “brokered deal,” Connie joked. Toby wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate her father, but a conversation at the end of her junior year with Rabbi Benyamin Moss of Beth Tfiloh, an 11th-grade advisor and Judaics faculty member, convinced her to channel her desire to memorialize her father in different way — especially after she shared the boots story with Moss. That’s how the idea for the shoe drive came about.
Then came the hard part. They determined together that Toby should speak in front of her classmates to kick off the shoe drive, which she did last month. Toby was nervous.
“I was just afraid that I would start crying,” she said, “but I held it together because I kept looking at my friends, and I knew that they were there for me.”
The speech went off without a hitch, and the shoe drive quickly blew past the original goal of 50 pairs of shoes. Classmates, teachers and other community members have donated everything from rain boots to high-heeled shoes, both used and new.
For Connie and Toby, the drive has been an affirmation of what they see as the central point of her father’s story.
“Giving anything, even the smallest amount, can make such a huge difference,” Toby said. “Even one pair of shoes can make a child, a woman, a man, feel so loved and so appreciated that really, you can make a difference, and it only starts with doing something small. … My father just really inspired me through his strength.”
The shoe drive will continue through October 18.