Imagine what it feels like to plan and execute a mission on enemy ground despite heavy fatigue, working to maintain a level of physical fitness and mental readiness that would allow you to take action at a moment’s notice. Imagine what it feels like lead a troop of soldiers only one or two years your junior into battle in blistering heat or frigid cold, knowing that the lives of your comrades and of the people in your country hang in the balance, your successes and failures critical to their survival.
Sound stressful? Now imagine you had to do all of this at the age of 19.
Are you in college? Do you have a son or a daughter in college? What is her major? Which clubs does he participate in when he’s not studying? Education is important, and many teenagers embark on this road to higher education immediately after high school. Some, though, choose to defer their plans in favor of service in the Israel Defense Forces. What must it be like to strap on a combat vest instead of a backpack? To carry a rifle instead of a textbook? To fight fatigue at 4 a.m. while guarding a post instead of fighting fatigue while studying in the library? To separate yourself from your family, friends, language, and culture?
Serving as a soldier in the IDF is not easy. It’s not easy for native Israelis, who see it as a matter of course, and it’s not easy for new immigrants who choose to serve as lone soldiers in Israel’s military.
Enter the Friends of the IDF (FIDF). FIDF exists to support and strengthen the men and women of the IDF. The FIDF offers financial, emotional, and social support to ensure that these soldiers never feel alone. My job in the army was to guide new immigrant soldiers from civilian life to military life. Many of my soldiers were in the country by themselves, an added challenge above general military hardships.
The FIDF stepped in and provided my soldiers with food for Shabbat, social events to help them feel connected, and financial assistance. But that’s not all the FIDF does. The FIDF provides Israel’s military personnel with education, it supports bereaved families and injured soldiers, and it constructs recreation centers, synagogues, memorial sites, and so much more.
I was honored to attend the
MidAtlantic Regional FIDF gala dinner in Washington, D.C. on June 4. The event drew over 750 guests to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center and raised over $700,000 to support well-being and educational programs for IDF soldiers. The speakers included IDF Sgt. (Res.) Emma, who immigrated to Israel from the U.K. and served as a Lone Soldier in the Military Police Corps; IDF Staff Sgt. (Res.) Gabriel, who served as a combat paratrooper; and IDF Staff Sgt. (Res.) Maor, who now runs a global tech-real estate company that is conducting business in Washington, D.C.
It was wonderful to see people of all ages and backgrounds, some of whom take annual trips to Israel, some of whom have never set foot in the Holy Land, come together to support this amazing organization. I walked around the room and struck up conversations with guests, wanting to uncover each person’s connection to the FIDF.
Gefen Chazan is a shlicha (Israeli emissary) at Gesher Jewish Day School and Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Viriginia, through the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Originally from Haifa, she served in the IDF as a sniper instructor, but she now has a dual “local” connection to FIDF — the executive director for FIDF’s MidAtlantic Region, Ari Dallas, is also a congregant at Olam Tikvah, and they collaborate on Israel programming for their community.
“There is a great population of Jewish people in America, a strong one that can help us, and we can learn from them and they can learn from us,” said Chazan, “There is a great relation between understanding that Israel as a democracy in the Middle East sees the same point of view as America, so they can work together as allies since they are sharing the same values.”
Jodi Winter of Vienna, Virginia, has never lived in Israel; David Sussman of Potomac, Maryland, travels to Israel for work and knows people who’ve served in the IDF or whose children have served; and Asher Kotz was from Kibbutz Alonim before he married a Californian and ended up in the DC area — but these three individuals of different backgrounds and levels of familiarity with life in Israel all see supporting FIDF as an important way of supporting Israeli soldiers. People see the gala as an opportunity to not only provide their financial support but network with likeminded supporters of Israel as well.
What I found time and again was a genuine feeling that Israel is a stronghold in the world, that its existence in the world as the only democracy in the Middle East is of paramount importance, and that the only way to ensure her existence, is to support the men and women protecting her. They all seemed to echo FIDF’s sentiments: Their job is to look after Israel. Our job is to look after them.
By Atara Mayer
Atara Mayer served as a basic training commander in the Education Corps at Michveh Alon, a base located in northern Israel.