The IDF Now Faces the Invisible Enemy

Former Friends of the Israel Defense Forces National Director, Maj. General (Res) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, currently serving as a General in the reserves in the IDF, shared his perspective on the IDF duties during this time, with Tzvia Wexler, FIDF Executive Director on the Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey region.

Maj. General Gershon’s career in the IDF involved coordinating numerous IDF operations, including the first Lebanon War, ‘Defensive Shield’ during the second Intifada, and leading the Home Front Command in the second Lebanon war. He lived in the U.S. for six years while heading the national FIDF organization, and is now back in Israel with his eyes and ears on the ground.

The State of Israel celebrates 72 years of existence this month, and despite its independence, this young country is still in the midst of a historic nation-building process.

Wexler asked Maj. General Gershon about the upcoming national Israeli holidays and about how the IDF, and Israeli society, are managing the Covid-19 crisis.

(TW) We are just days before Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. One of the strengths of the IDF is maintaining close ties with commanders, soldiers, and bereaved families, after losing their loved ones while serving. This year, it will look different. As a commander who lost soldiers during an IDF operation, what are your thoughts?

(JG) Memorial Day and Independence Day constitute the foundation upon which we are able to continue to live, grow, and develop. We could not have existed without the sacrifice of the commanders and fighters before the establishment of the state up to this day. Bereaved families do not need a remembrance day, as the empty space that has been created in their lives is a painful reminder that they face every day. Memorial Day is meant for all people to unite and to remember that those who lost their lives commanded us to live. As someone who has lost fighters on the battlefields, I am a bereaved commander who does not the ability to be with families in this special moment of the year, to shake their hands, hug them and be with them to remember together. As commanders, we are an important part of the memory of their loved one. Our presence has an effect on the lives of the bereaved. This year so as not to jeopardize anyone, we will remotely remember our lost soldiers and commanders through a phone call or the use of other technological means.

(TW) Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. How did the IDF integrate themselves into the events?

(JG) The army and its commanders and fighters constitute the protective wall of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, with those in uniform ‘quietly shouting Never Again’ during the heroic ceremonies. It is customary on this day for young paratroopers in red berets to commemorate the Yom Ha’Shoah as the message goes out to the nation and the whole world that Israel is capable of protecting itself on its own.

(TW) What has been the role of the IDF in fighting the pandemic which presents a different kind of war?

(JG) The IDF and the Israeli security system have joined forces to stabilize actions to help save lives, fight the virus and defeat it. As always, when Israeli society is threatened, they unite and do everything possible to successfully meet the challenge. For example, the Israeli institution considered the best intelligence organization in the world, initiated and led the development of a protective app that lets you know in real time if you are close to a patient and what needs to be done. A plan was systemized to ensure that Israel would have the equipment needed to save lives. The Home Front Command and other IDF forces initiated and organized treatments at various locations where the virus broke out and the Ministry of Defense converted hotels to isolation sites for those infected. As always, the security system is mobilizing to meet national goals that are not necessarily linked to external military threats. This is part of Israel’s history. In the first few decades, the army helped establish settlements. In later years, the IDF brought in Ethiopian immigrants, rescued the kidnappers from Entebbe, and much more.

(TW) Since the founding of the State of Israel, IDF soldiers have been imbued with a strong sense of national identity to protect the nation’s independence and security of its citizens. Can they continue in the midst of the pandemic?

(JG) All countries around us, including Iran, are heavily preoccupied with the virus, but their targets against Israel have not changed. IDF soldiers, today as always, are on the brink, practicing vigorously to prevent war, and if it comes, to defeat it as quickly as possible. IDF commanders cannot afford to forget their main mission for one moment. The IDF is dealing with the epidemic and maintaining the military’s operational competence both at the same time.

(TW) As a commander, what is the connection you have observed between the IDF and Diaspora Jews?

(JG) The IDF commanders and their fighters are known as a defense army for Israel – defenders of the entire nation of Israel, and every Jew everywhere across the globe. Know that the State of Israel will be there for them. Every Jew knows that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are the insurance certificates that allow them to live anywhere, develop, create, and influence in any good ways that they choose for all of humanity.

What message would you like to share at the close of this interview?

(JG) The virus that pervades the world and has largely stopped the world from turning, allows us to think about the moment after the virus is defeated and we go back to our daily routines: The world probably won’t return to exactly where it used to be, but it may well be a better world if we learn the good that we discover and leave behind the less good. Take care of the globe since it is our home. Be more humble and family oriented. Understand one another and always try to see the glass half full.

Pennsylvania & Southern NJ FIDF 9th Annual Gala

Join the FIDF to help them fulfill their mission to offer educational, cultural, recreational, and social services programs and facilities that provide hope, purpose, and life-changing support for the soldiers who protect Israel and Jews worldwide.

FIDF Poland Trip for Holocaust Survivors

More than forty Friends of the Israel Defense Forces(FIDF) supporters from across the country will join Holocaust survivors on a mission to Poland and Israel from May 2nd to May 10th. They will be accompanied by forty five soldiers and officers representing all branches of the Israel Defense Forces(IDF.

Joining the delegation will be Holocaust survivor Sophie Tajch Klisman, 89, of Detroit. Klisman, along with her sister Felicia, survived the Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Salzwedel concentration camps. The youngest of four children, she was only 10 years old when Nazi Germany occupied Lodz, forcing the family into the Lodz ghetto of 68,000 Jews. Both sisters were liberated from Salzwedel in April 1945, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, settling in the Detroit area. The remainder of their family perished.

“If I look at the rest of the family, they were already adults and grown-ups and here was this child; that was just a miracle that I survived; it was meant for me to survive,” Klisman said. “I just hope in conclusion, that nobody, nobody should have to live through such terrors, such horrible conditions at such a young age, or at any age. It was a horrible experience, but I’m glad that I finally was able to tell it.”

Also joining will be Holocaust survivor Gizella “Gita” Mann, 89, of Israel. Mann’s community in Hungary was forced into a ghetto and later brought to Auschwitz, where she and her sister were separated from their family. Gita was later separated from her sister and sent to Germany, where she worked for most of the war. After narrowly escaping death, she was taken to Sweden and stayed there until 1946. She returned to Hungary after the war and reunited with her sister and three brothers. In 1948, she moved with her then-fiancé to Israel, where she stayed until emigrating to the U.S. in 1964, and finally returning to Israel five years ago. Mann has two children who live in New Jersey, and she currently lives in Jerusalem.

Led by FIDF National President Bobby Cohen and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the nine-day “From Holocaust to Independence” mission will span Jewish history, from its darkest moments to its most triumphant. Israeli soldiers and Holocaust survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, starting in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, and tracing the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children, and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.

The entire delegation will then fly to Israel on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) airplane, after the IDF Chief of the General Staff granted the FIDF delegation exclusive access, and land at an IAF base. The group will visit IDF bases and meet soldiers serving on Israel’s front lines, commemorate Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror – and celebrate Israel’s 71st Independence Day.

“This historic mission will survey Jewish modern history through the eyes of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and those who risk their lives to defend the Jewish homeland,” said Klifi-Amir. “We’ll celebrate our story of heroism – from near annihilation, to the triumph of establishing the state of Israel. When we march tall and proud through the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, together with Holocaust survivors, FIDF supporters, and 45 Israeli officers in uniform, gratefully flying the Israeli flag, we will send a clear message: that we are here, we will never forget, and we will do whatever we must do to protect our country and our people to guarantee – Never Again.”

“This mission serves as one of the last opportunities for survivors to return to Auschwitz and share its dreadful stories,” said Cohen. “We will walk through the gates of hell, where countless Jews suffered and perished at the hands of the Nazis. We will ensure the stories of survivors live on, safeguarded by those brave soldiers who defend and protect the state of Israel, and Jewish people around the world.”

FIDF Celebrates 70 Years of Israeli Heroes

Hundreds of guests, community leaders, politicians, Israeli and American soldiers, Holocaust survivor Leon Shear, and other special guests will gather for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey Chapter Annual Tribute Dinner to celebrate the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The funds raised at this event will go toward FIDF well-being and educational programs for IDF soldiers, wounded veterans, and the families of fallen soldiers.

Please purchase tickets here.

FIDF Event Shines a Light on Siblings of Fallen Soldiers

Gil Lesnik

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces hosted a Shabbat dinner in Center City. The evening’s special guest was Israeli writer, producer and director Gil Lesnik, who screened his film “My Younger Elder Brother” at the dinner. The film documents the struggles of a previously overlooked group of bereaved people: the younger siblings of fallen soldiers. [Read more…]

Holocaust Survivors Travel With IDF Officers to Poland and Israel

Miroslawa Gruszczynska (left) and Holocaust survivor Miri Amir. Photo credit: Shahar Azran.

Miroslawa Gruszczynska (left) and Holocaust survivor Miri Amir. Photo credit: Shahar Azran.

Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Bronia Brandman, 86, returned to the death camp for the first time since her liberation. Holocaust survivor Miri Amir was reunited yesterday with Miroslawa Gruszczynska, the woman whose family — awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem — hid her from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. Both of these emotionally charged events took place during a trip to Poland by Holocaust survivors, officers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a delegation of 40 supporters of the organization Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). During the second leg of the journey, the group also traveled together to Israel.

[Read more…]