10-Year-Old-Me and 14-Year-Old Me Finally Joined the IDF


FIDF short film on joining the IDF

— by Becca Richman

After a little over a month, I finally laid down my broom and graduated from basic training. The way the army marks the end of this swirly month is with our swearing-in ceremony. My plugah (company) and I stood in a blob formation while the company commander read a few sentences for us to repeat. Then, one by one, we were called up to hold a tanakh (bible) and our gun, and swear to uphold our duties to the IDF.

The ceremony itself wasn’t anything special — the army has this funny way of throwing a bunch of random things together and expecting you to take it seriously just because it’s the army. This is the only explanation for the flashing light sticks scattered stunningly on the floor, the tree branches arranged in the shape of a Jewish star, or the old, cheesy music playing in the background. It all seemed very contrived to me, and as I stood at attention and watched my friends get called forward, I snickered to myself at the obvious symbolism that the commanders were forcing upon the occasion. And then my name was called.

Continued after the jump.
I took a deep breath and took a step up to my commander. He handed me my bible and my gun, and waited for me to say my part. All at once, eight years of dreams came flooding back to me. I saw myself at 10-years-old, standing at the Western Wall for the first time, feeling a holiness that I could not and still cannot explain, letting my most sincere words to God spill onto a ripped sheet of paper. I saw myself at 14, visiting my sister in Israel and finding that my longing to live here seemed to release me from my angst-filled and impatient adolescence.

I saw myself at 16, frustrated with the knowledge that two years of wanting may as well be an eternity, sitting at a computer until the wee hours of the morning and Googling programs to finally bring me home. I saw myself at 17, enjoying my summer program but angry that I had to be a tourist in the land where my heart was born. And I saw myself at 18, cleaning the same chairs for the fourth time, doing push-ups, tears streaming down my face because the language barrier seemed impossible to break.

A thought popped into my head and the sheer force of it was enough to literally make me take a step back: I realized that this moment was what I had been waiting for. All of that anticipation and longing and frustration that built up over eight years was just leading up to this very moment. It may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the icy chill slithering slowly up and down my spine told me that it was all worth it, that this moment was mine to remind me of the pain and the beauty of fulfilled dreams. It was as if 10-year-old me, 14-year-old me, 16-and 17-year-old me, and even basic-training me were all suddenly overcome with an inexplicable happiness that tugged at my heart and had me on the verge of tears. I clutched the bible and my gun, smiled, and finally let the tears dance down my face as I said, “Ken ha’mefaked! Yes, commander, I swear!”

Becca Richman is a lone soldier volunteer with the IDF. She is the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Beit She’an: The Becca Richman Diaries.

Philly Delegation Participates in Holocaust Remembrance Journey


Photos by Shahar Azran, courtesy of FIDF

— by Jen Glantz

Over 100 prominent Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) lay leaders and supporters from the United States and Panama, including a delegation from Philadelphia, were accompanied by over 50 IDF officers as they toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland as part of the ten-day FIDF “From Holocaust to Independence” journey to Poland and Israel.

The delegation visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, which was the largest of the Nazi’s Concentration Camps. The delegation also listened to the personal story of a Holocaust survivor from Israel, Asher Aud, in Auschwitz 2-Birkenau, where mass exterminations of Jews took place throughout the war.

More after the jump.
Earlier, The delegation toured the town of Tarnów-Zbylitowska Góra, which was home to thousands of Jews at the onset of World War II, who ultimately faced unspeakable suffering at the hands of the Nazis, and the village of Zbylitowska Góra as well as Buczyna Forest, where many Jews, including over 800 children, were executed and buried by the Nazis.

The delegation also visited the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Krakow, an important district in Jewish history and learned about its significant Jewish community that thrived from the 14th Century until the Holocaust. The delegation toured the Krakow Jewish Ghetto, where Jews were forced to live during the Nazi occupation, and saw the remnants of the Krakow Ghetto Wall. Upon arriving to Poland, the delegation enjoyed a celebratory dinner with the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz.


The delegation, including FIDF supporter Herbert London and his wife Vicki, near the synagogue

The official military ceremony at the Children’s Grave at Zbylitowska Góra

A group of FIDF delegation participants and IDF soldiers, with FIDF National President, Julian Josephson and FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, at the remnants of the Krakow Ghetto Wall

Left to right: FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, and FIDF National President, Julian Josephson in Krakow, Poland

$27 Million Raised at FIDF National Gala Dinner

— by Jen Glantz

$27 million was raised Tuesday night at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National NY Gala Dinner where over 1,400 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered at the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to demonstrate their love and support for the soldiers of Israel. FIDF Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark was the chair of the Gala, and author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.

A special delegation from the FIDF Pennsylvania & Southern New Jersey Region participated in the Gala event. Among the delegation members was the Executive Director of the FIDF Pennsylvania & Southern New Jersey Region, Tzvia Wexler.

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Among the distinguished guests in attendance were FIDF National Chairman, Nily Falic; FIDF National President, Julian Josephson; FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; Former IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein; Israeli-American luxury fashion designer, Elie Tahari; President of the New York Yankees, Randy Levine and his wife, Mindy; American real estate tycoon and media proprietor, Mort Zuckerman; and American sex therapist, media personality, and author, Dr. Ruth Westheimer.


Left to right: Former IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, Executive Director of the FIDF Pennsylvania & Southern New Jersey Region, Tzvia Wexler, Ambassador Ron Prosor

One of the evening’s outstanding guests was Cpt. Ziv Shilon, a 25-year-old commander of the Givati Brigade, who just a couple of months ago was badly injured in a Hamas attack near the Gaza security fence, when an explosive device went off. Cpt. Shilon was also joined at the Gala by more than 30 soldiers and officers from various IDF units as well as soldiers from the United States Armed Forces, including Maj. Justin Constantine, a wounded U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Notable among the donations were $5 million pledged by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein; $1 million pledged by the Genesis Philanthropy Group; $130,000 pledged by Elie Tahari; $100,000 pledged by Mort Zuckerman; $1.08 million pledged by FIDF National Board Member, Harry Gross; and $1.3 million pledged by National Board Member and Young Leadership Chairman Tony Felzen on behalf of FIDF NY Young Leadership. The Major League Baseball and the Yankee Foundation purchased dinner sponsorships.

The evening culminated with the heartfelt words shared by bereaved mother, Nelly Barak, who tragically lost her son, Hanan Barak Z”L, who was a tank commander, in 2006. Hanan and another soldier were killed when a group of terrorists fired an RPG at his tank and then abducted his soldier, Gilad Shalit, that was released last October after five years of captivity by Hamas in Gaza.

The funds raised during the evening will provide services like academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, financial support for soldiers in-need and Lone Soldiers from around the world, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities. The evening was an opportunity to pay tribute to the State of Israel and to send a message of love and support to the brave men and women in uniform.

Gilad Shalit Visits 50 “Lone Soldiers”

Former kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit visited the Nefesh B’Nefesh offices in Jerusalem yesterday to meet with 50 Lone Soldier Olim from across the world. In an informal gathering, Gilad expressed his support and admiration for these brave young men and women who hail from countries including the USA, Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, Norway, Mexico, South Africa, France, Argentina, Brazil and Spain and are serving in various units such as Infantry, Intelligence, Paratroopers and Communications among others. “I admire each one of you for what you are doing for our country. Your decision to leave your families and friends and make Aliyah on your own and join the army is truly courageous and admirable. Although you are far from your own families, you are not alone — we are all one family and are here to support you and make you feel most welcome as Israeli citizens,” he said.

More after the jump.

“We are very excited to have Gilad Shalit with us, and are also very proud to be the home for Lone Soldiers serving in the IDF, taking care of all their needs in Israel and providing them with ongoing support. We thank the IDF for their partnership in this important project,” said Vice Chairman of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Erez Halfon.

The FIDF/Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program, in collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel and KKL, assists newly arrived soldiers with their transition into their new lives in Israel and national service, by offering guidance, social and emotional support, quarterly care packages, adoptive families and financial aid, as well as assistance to parents of Lone Soldiers in the form of information and support.

Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh in cooperation with the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah. The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to its 33,000 newcomers, has ensured that 97% of its Olim have remained in Israel.  

A Soldier Speaks of His IDF Unit

— By Hannah Lee

There’s nothing like an eyewitness to convey the visceral and emotional impact of overseas news. So, I’d looked forward to the parlor meeting held at a private residence on the Main Line on Tuesday. Their son, Akiva (a pseudonym to protect his identity), was the featured speaker and he showed computer images of his work with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Their goal for the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) was to outfit his unit, 80-member strong, with fleece jackets, Camelback water bottles, and Leatherman tools.

More after the jump.
Akiva made aliyah (moved to Israel) in August of 2011 after he graduated from Cornell with a degree in engineering. He entered the Israel Defense Force in November. After a 8-month training period and a course as a medic, he was assigned to a combat engineering unit, whose responsibility is to search for mines.  His unit worked along the Syrian border, which he said was the most mined border worldwide after the border between North and South Korea. During last month’s attacks by Hamas, his unit was re-deployed to Gaza.

As a Chayal Boded (Lone Soldier), Akiva is assigned to a religious kibbutz for his time off (others are given stipends for group apartments) and he gets four weeks of vacation for visits home with his family. His engineering degree is not essential to his duties, but his father pointed out that the family insisted that Akiva completes his college education before making aliyah. His medic training was simpler than that for an EMT in the United States, as the focus is on treatment for shock. The first step is in stabilizing the injured soldier for removal from the combat zones.

In its inaugural year, the Pennsylvania and Southern NJ chapter of the Friends of IDF had a busy year. Among their fundraising projects, they built a gym, refurbished a club, supported veterans in their post-IDF studies, donated a Torah scroll to an IDF base, adopted a battalion, sponsored summer camp in the United States for B’nai Mitzvah and soldiers from bereaved families,and sponsored flights home for Lone Soldiers. All donations to FIDF are fully tax-deductible. All purchases are pre-approved by the IDF.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to speak at Friends of the IDF

Former Israel Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will be the keynote speaker at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey 2012 Gala dinner, taking place Sunday, October 14, at Vie in Philadelphia. Over 500 prominent lay leaders and FIDF supporters from across Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey are expected to attend the annual Gala.

More after the jump.
The honoree at the event will be entertainment mogul and Tony Award winner Larry Magid, who has been in the entertainment business for 50 years. He has produced and promoted over 16,000 performances. His numerous awards include two Tony Awards and four Tony Nominations.

The Gala will also be honored by the participation of an Ethiopian-Israeli IDF Officer, Lt. Rachel Samani, who serves as a platoon commander in the Educational Corps where she manages four officers. Also participating in the event is IMPACT! Scholarship recipient Yonatan Benjamin Asseraf, who served as a combat soldier in the Paratrooper’s Brigade in the IDF during the Second Lebanon War and now studies law at the IDC in Herzliya. Yonatan received an OZ medal, an award of excellence, for his participation in the Second Lebanon War.

Among the participants at the event will also be dinner co-chairs Gerry Shreiber and Israel Roizman.

Friends of the IDF National Mission to Israel November 4-10, 2012

Have you ever fantasized about having a face-to-face meeting with the IDF Chief of the General Staff?  Meeting the pilots of the F-16 fighter planes, and seeing a demonstration of their skills?  You have the opportunity to realize these and many other fantasies on November 4, 2012 by participating in the FIDF’s National Mission to Israel.  

This mission brings together FIDF supporters from across the United States and Panama for a unique seven-day journey to Israel. In addition to touring the country and visiting the historic sites, participants of the FIDF Mission get to visit IDF bases.  On these bases participants get to meet soldiers as well as some of Israel’s top officials.  They get to see first-hand FIDF programs and projects that benefit IDF soldiers across the country. This extraordinary mission to Israel will culminate with a special ceremony marking the powerful bond between the State of Israel and the Jewish community worldwide.  This ceremony will salute the IDF soldiers and commanders, and pay tribute to FIDF’s valued supporters.

More after the jump.

The FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of holocaust survivors as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the heroic men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 loyal supporters, and 16 regional offices throughout the U.S. and Panama. FIDF proudly offers its support to the IDF soldiers and their families through a variety of unique and innovative programs. These opportunities reinforce the vital bond between the communities in the United States, the soldiers of the IDF, and the State of Israel.

Links:

For more information please contact: Meirav Schwartz, 646-274-9653

Itzik Ashkenazi: An Israeli Wounded Warrior Chef

Itzik Ashkenazi— by Ronit Treatman

“Take one cup of unbleached flour and two eggs. Heap the flour onto a clean surface. Make a hole at the top, so it looks like a volcano.  Pour your eggs into the hole. Start mixing the eggs and flour with one hand. You will need the other hand to prevent the eggs from oozing onto the counter. Once you have incorporated the eggs into the flour, start kneading the dough….”

This is a moment in Itzik Ashkenazi’s current life. He never intended to be a chef, he tells me, as he talks about how he makes fresh pasta.  An electrical engineer by training, he was on duty on a beautiful October day in 1990 on his base near Rosh Pina.  Suddenly, his left leg was shattered by friendly fire. Itzik was rushed to Rambam Hospital.  Fortunately for him, the skillful surgeons who operated on him saved his leg.  His recovery would not have been complete had it not been for the contributions of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and American non-profit organization dedicated to Israeli soldiers’ well-being.  Physical therapy and other amenities sponsored by the FIDF helped rehabilitate him. Only an orthopedist would know I was ever injured now,” he tells me.  An unexpected result of the process of healing from the pain and trauma of this injury was that Itzik transformed himself from an electrical engineer into one of Tel Aviv’s most passionate chefs.

More after the jump.  
Once he was honorably discharged from the IDF, Itzik needed time to finish healing. He couldn’t just accept the responsibility of working full time as an electrical engineer somewhere.  He decided to help out in his family’s restaurant, Il Pastaio (The Pasta Maker). His Italian-born mother started Il Pastaio in 1988 as a store selling freshly prepared pasta. Located in a Bauhaus building circa 1939, it was the only place in Israel where fresh pasta was made in the traditional Milanese way.  As the store became more and more successful, Itzik’s family decided to hire an Italian architect to design the the first floor interior to be an authentic, northern Italian restaurant.  

Initially, Itzik helped out with the business side of the enterprise. But he still had to heal from his injuries, both externally and emotionally.  Itzik reached deep inside himself for what he truly loved. He felt the call to be creative with food. Itzik learned how to prepare fresh pasta at the feet of the master: Enzo Dellea, a famous Northern Italian chef and cookbook author. The sensual experience of mixing flour and eggs, kneading the fresh dough, and inhaling its earthy aroma helped repair Itzik’s internal emotional trauma.  Nurturing hungry people with delicious, artisanal food filled him with joy. As part of his healing process, Itzik discovered his true passion.

As he became more accomplished in the kitchen, he reached into his family’s Jewish heritage from Rhodes.  Itzik’s aunt, Matilda Koen-Sarano, wrote a cookbook in Ladino called Gizar Kon Gozo or Cooking with Pleasure.  From this book, he shares with us a recipe that combines his love of preparing fresh pasta with a traditional Sephardic dish called travados, or as he calls them affectionately, travadikos.  The Ashkenazi family prepares travadikos to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  “Travadikos are a mezza luna (half moon) of fresh dough, filled with a mixture of ground nuts.  The filled dough is baked, and then simmered in honey syrup.  Travadikos taste a lot like baklava,” he explains to me.  

Matilda Koen-Sarano’s Travadikos
Adapted from Gizar Kon Gozo

For the dough:

travados 084

Travados

Travados

travados 097

Photos: The Boreka Diary

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder

For the filling:

  • 1-½ cups ground almonds or walnuts
  • ¼ cups sugar

For the syrup:

  • ¾ cup honey
  • ½ cup sugar
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preparation:

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the dough together.
  2. Allow the dough to rest for two hours.
  3. Mix the ground nuts and sugar.
  4. Mix all the ingredients for the syrup in a pot over a low flame.  Stir until a golden syrup forms.  Keep warm.
  5. Preheat the oven to 356 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Roll out the dough.
  7. Using a wine glass, cut out circles of dough.
  8. Place one teaspoon of filling in each circle of dough.
  9. Fold the dough in half over the filling, and pinch shut to create a mezza luna (half moon).
  10. Bake the trovadikos for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the trovadikos from the oven and simmer in the syrup for a few seconds.
  12. Remove the trovadikos with a slotted spoon and place them on a large serving platter.
  13. Garnish with a dusting of ground nuts mixed with sugar.

During his hospitalization at Rambam Hospital, Itzik discovered that one of the missions of the FIDF is to rehabilitate wounded soldiers.  They do this through their Strides Program.  “I am very, very fortunate,” Itzik tells me.  “My friends who were injured during combat carry invisible injuries,” he says.  “They can’t sleep at night.  I wish I could help them find something to move them away from what happened to them during their military service.”  As Rosh Hashanah, the time of “teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah,” arrives, please consider helping repair these soldiers’ lives with a contribution to FIDF.  Your gift may even help discover a new culinary genius!

I would like to extend my special thanks to Beit Halochem for connecting me with Itzik Ashkenazi.

Shanah Tovah!

Friends of the IDF: Having An Impact and Changing Lives

— by Ronit Treatman

Have you ever wondered what people talk about in a bomb shelter during a war?  I found out in 1973.   The Yom Kippur War was raging around me.  My father was away, fighting on the Syrian front. In the middle of the night, the air raid sirens were sounded.  My mother, brother, and I stumbled down the stairs to the bomb shelter of our building.  Our neighbors were having a tempestuous discussion about the stupidity of the design of our air raid retreat.  One neighbor had the last word when he commented, “even if we survive a direct hit, our building’s propane tank is here with us.  It will explode, killing us instantly!”  I sat with them, watching over my infant brother and thinking about my dad.  We had no way to communicate with him.  I also thought about another neighbor who was on the front, a fighter pilot.  The next day we got the terrible news: our fighter pilot had been shot down.  He was killed in action.  His father, Albert, owned the grocery store on our street.  I adored Albert!  One month later, his grocery store was locked, and a notice had been glued to the door.  Albert had died.  “Of a broken heart,” I was told.  “Once his son died, he had nothing to live for anymore.”  At that moment, my five-year-old heart shattered as well.  I never forgot Albert or his brave son.  A few months later the Yom Kippur War ended, and my family was sent to Venezuela.

More after the jump.
Thirteen years later, I left my family behind, and flew fifteen hours from Venezuela to Israel.  I did this so I could volunteer to serve in the IDF as a Lone Soldier.  At the concluding ceremony of my basic training, tears rolled down my cheeks as I swore over my Uzi machine gun and Torah to protect the State of Israel.  Albert and his son were in my thoughts.

It has been twenty-four years since I was honorably discharged from my military duty.  I have been busy with studies, building a family, and living my life.  My oldest daughter, Devorah, was born and raised in Philadelphia.  This year, she spent a semester in Israel at the Alexander Muss High School.  It was a transformational experience!  “Everything I did was full of meaning and purpose!” she shared with me.  As a result, she has decided to volunteer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Devorah will also be a Lone Soldier.  She will be in good company.  According to Major General (Ret.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, national director of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, last year there were 2,500 lone soldier volunteers in the IDF.  Forty percent of them came from North and South America, forty percent from the former Soviet Union, and the rest from Europe.  

As I proudly watch Devorah make her own choices and take off, I want to do something to help her and all the other soldiers in Israel.  What can I do when I live in Philadelphia?  I can support them through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The FIDF is an American nonprofit organization whose mission is to help Israeli soldiers, and the families of fallen soldiers.  It is a community of Zionists who are passionate about Israel.  

The FIDF supports bereaved families by sponsoring summer camps, trips, workshops, and gifts for widows and orphans.  Lone Soldiers are helped with FIDF sponsored flights home to visit their family.  IDF soldiers who serve in combat units and demonstrate financial need are offered scholarships for a college education in Israel.  The FIDF is paying for medical training in its IDF Medical School.  Clubs, libraries, gyms, canteens, synagogues, and well-being centers are being built by the FIDF for soldiers to enjoy during their military service.

Our local Philadelphia chapter of the FIDF just elected its first board.  There are many opportunities to be a part of this community.  The FIDF is the perfect organization for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah project.  The Young Leadership Division is appropriate for college graduates.  It is a great place for those who enjoyed the Birthright program, and wish to maintain and strengthen their connection to Israel. During the course of the year the FIDF sponsors opportunities to meet with Israeli soldiers, enjoy IDF musical ensemble performances, gala dinners, and missions to Israel.  You can check their website to see what appeals to you most.  I intend to become very involved in this organization.  I invite you join me.