Last week, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces began a new tradition here in Philadelphia with their first annual Gala. Everyone enjoyed the music under the direction of Udi Bar as well as the drinks and fine food.
However, the real reason everyone came out was to show their support for the soldiers of the IDF. Their jobs is to look after Israel, and it is the job for the Friends of the IDF to look after them.
Keynote speaker former Governor Ed Rendell explained that he and his brother Robert were not raised in a religious home, but his father told them to remember that they are Jews, to remember how Jews have been treated over the years, and to support Jewish causes like FIDF whenever they could.
Although Rendell has had many titles: Governor of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mayor of Philadelphia and Philadelphia District Attorney, he said the title of which he is most proud is that of 2nd Lieutenant from his service in the reserve from 1968 to 1974.
The Friends of the IDF supports Israeli soldiers in many ways:
- The IMPACT! program grants full scholarships to soldiers who come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background and seek a higher education. Each scholarship recipient is required to complete 130 hours of community service annually. IMPACT! Student Maru Gete, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant, came to tell us how the FIDF allowed him to realize his dream of going to medical school.
- The Legacy Program supports thousands of widows, orphans and other family members who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved-one fallen during military service. Galit Cochva was on hand to speak courageous of her husband Ron who died when his helicopter crashed in Lebanon.
- The Lone Soldier Program supports the 2,800 determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to travel to Israel, become proud IDF soldiers and make Israel their home. Friends of the IDF is a family to Lone Soldiers who have no family of their own in Israel.
Wynnewood native Shoval Dorani returned to Philadlephia to tell us about her life as a lone soldier and the support she received from the Friends of the IDF.
Here is what she had to say:
Good evening. My name is Shoval Dorani and for the past year I have been serving as a proud lone soldier in Oketz, the independent canine special forces unit of the Israel defense force.
I was born in North Miami Beach, Florida and raised in beautiful Wynnewood, Pennsylvania along with my brother Omri and my sister Liat. I had the privilege of receiving a Jewish Day School education and was raised in a home where the state of Israel was constantly in our hearts and in our minds. My father was born in Israel and my mother has always considered Israel her second home, so we traveled to Israel often. Each time I stepped onto Israel soil, I felt a sense of belonging. I was home.
The remainder of Shoval’s remarks follow the jump.
The summer of 2006, the summer that Gilad Shalit was taken into captivity became a critical turning point in my life. I was a 14 year old attending an all girls summer camp when the Israel Lebanon war broke out. It was that moment that the course of my life would change forever. As the girls were playing in tennis tournaments or having fun on the soccer field, all I could think about was the war and how I wished to be alongside those brave soldiers of the IDF. It was then that I realized upon high school graduation, that I would enlist in the Israel defense forces. My friends could not understand my passion, but it was my dream, one that turned into a reality.
In the summer of 2010, my journey began, one that continues to challenge me both physically and mentally in ways I never thought possible. And while my friends were leaving for college full of dreams and excitement, I chose to leave my family and the comforts of home to travel to Israel and enlist in the Israeli army.
I am currently serving as a lochemet (combat soldier) in the Oketz unit which specializes in training dogs for military purposes. These dogs are highly trained to attack, sniff out hidden explosives or different chemicals as well as being used in search and rescue efforts resulting from earthquakes or other disasters.
I have a beautiful Belgian shepherd named Gula. She is highly trained to sniff out suspicious cars, objects and buildings for weapons and chemicals in order to prevent terrorism from entering the state of Israel.
It was two weeks after my enlistment into Karakal, a combat unit where men and women serve together to protect the southern border of Israel, that we had our gibush. Before joining the army, I knew that my dream was to be a soldier in Oketz. The only way for girls to join Oketz was to pass a ‘gibush,’ a physical and mental test lasting two days. It all began with a hapkatza, the sudden wake up call in the middle of the night. The next eight hours was the physical part of the gibush, where every run, crawl, and jump would determine the next three years of my army service. I gave it my all. During that gibush, I remember asking myself how I was able to continue, but I never gave up, determined to overcome this difficult challenge.
Two long days passed after the Oketz gibush, with every girl as anxious and nervous as I was to hear which girls had made it into this elite unit. After eating our breakfast of white bread, whole avocados, half a banana, and white cheese, all without plates or utensils, we were told that the girls who did the gibush should stand in a “chet to hear who made it. Some girls began shaking and crying from nerves. As 100 girls stood silently, one of the commanders stood in the middle of the chet. “I will read the list of 16 girls who made it into Oketz, I do not want to hear any reactions. Stay quiet.” As the names were called, my heart was pounding. I felt a bead of sweat on my forehead, although my entire body was numb from the winter air of the desert. Names were being called, mine not among them, when suddenly, “Dorani, Shoval.” Tears instantly ran down my cheeks. I could not believe what I had heard. MY name!? I made it?! Never before had I felt so accomplished and proud. My dream came true right then and there. My journey as an IDF soldier had just begun.
After six grueling and challenging months of basic training, my beloved Oketz team and I would end our service in Karakal, and begin a new adventure in Oketz. This had been our dream for the past six months, and it was finally here. Getting ready for the ‘masa aliya,’ was an entirely new feeling for us. We had many masaot before, but this masa would bring us to Oketz, our final destination. Our excitement was unavoidable. With all of our equipment on our backs, our weapons tight around our bodies, and our faces fully covered in paint, we were more than ready to begin this journey of 15 kilometers.
Basic training was full of many challenging masaot. One of them in order to receive my tag, another for a diskit cover, a pin for my coomta, and a case for my machsanit. All of these masaot were meaningful and extremely important to me, however the masa aliya to yechidat oketz meant more to me than anything. With much rabak, we all took our places in two lines. Our commander took the lead and we followed.
During the masa, sweating and sleep deprived, I along with the others were determined to succeed. This was my family now and when one was down, we all lent a hand. We had begun this journey together…we would end this journey together.
One cold night during basic training in Karakal, the hour had finally come where we could shower, speak on the phone, and go to sleep in our tents. I quickly ran to organize my things for the shower when I saw a package waiting for me on my bed. My first reaction was that it was probably a mistake and meant for one of the girls in my tent. As one of only two lone soldiers in my unit, it was sometimes difficult to see the Israeli girls getting packages almost every day. They received anything from food, clothes, bedding, and shampoo from their families and friends living in Israel. I was happy to see that the package read my name and inside I found winter socks, a hat, long underwear, a long sleeved shirt, pajama shorts, and a neck warmer. The package included an envelope full of letters from people from all over the world thanking me for leaving my life and my family and friends behind to serve as a lone soldier in the IDF. There was a letter from a woman that especially touched me.
How are you? We hope that you’re not having too hard a time of it. After all, what would we do without you? Because of you, and only you, we are able to live and sleep in peace.
Our dear soldier, please take care of yourself so you can soon be home to your eema and abba. You are our strength. We are proud of you, look up to you, love you.
So take care of yourself and enjoy this package!
Nancy from Washington, D.C
No words could ever have been more beautiful, more important. I was not alone.
I want to thank each and every one of you in this room for coming tonight in support of the Friends of the Israel Defense Force. You have provided soldiers like me with certain comforts we would not otherwise be receiving. Packages, trips to water parks, and flights to travel and reunite with our families, are just to name a few. My journey has not been an easy one and there have been times of sadness and lonliness, but I made a decision to become a member of the IDF, a decision I will continue to love and be proud of.