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.

190 “Lone Soldiers” Graduate IDF Hebrew Course


Photos by Jared Bernstein Photography, courtesy of Nefesh B’Nefesh

About 190 “Lone Soldiers” — immigrants who have come to Israel without their families to serve in the Israeli army, finished a special Hebrew instruction course run by the IDF this week.  

The soldiers, about 100 of whom are headed to combat units, recently made Aliyah from 25 countries from around the world. The graduation ceremony took place on the Michve Alon base in northern Israel, and was attended by Major General Orna Barbivay, who heads the Personnel Directorate of the IDF. The Lone Soldiers were among 500 IDF soldiers finishing the course. The Hebrew Course in Michve Alon is required for all immigrant soldiers and varies from two weeks to three months in length depending on the soldier’s Hebrew proficiency.

More after the jump.
Dan Hirsch, 23, a Lone Soldier from Mexico, who is planning to serve in a special combat unit in the Navy, said:

It’s an amazing feeling to be here after dreaming about this moment for so long. I was very moved at the ceremony; listening to the Israeli National Anthem while wearing the IDF uniform means a lot to me. This is my generation’s turn to take charge.


The soldiers are supported by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF)/Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program. The program works in collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Tzofim youth movement “Garin” (kernel) Tzabar, and assists newly arrived soldiers with the transition into their new lives in Israel and national service by offering guidance, social support, care packages, adoptive families and financial aid, as well as assistance to parents of Lone Soldiers in the form of information and support.

Yaakov Rothstein, 19, from Colombia, who is planning to serve in a combat unit, said:

I know that I’m being described as a Lone Soldier, but the truth is that I’m not alone. I am surrounded by many amazing people, including Nefesh B’Nefesh staff who help me and make me feel at home. I’m the happiest person in the world, and am looking forward to doing my service for the Jewish people’s army.

An Ethiopian Jew’s Journey

— by Hannah Lee

I met Barak Avraham, known as Malaku in his native Amharic, during his 2-week tour of the United States on behalf of AMIT, which supports a network of 108 schools and programs in 29 cities in Israel. Avraham’s personal story is a marvelous case study of how AMIT schools turn around individual lives and whole towns. His trek began at age 9 when he walked, with his mother and four siblings, for three weeks from their village of Abu Zava to the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. Sleeping outdoors at night, they were at the peril of anti-Semites, who recognized them as Jews and strangers. (His non-Jewish father, already divorced, stayed at home.)

More after the jump.
Back in their village, his maternal family dreamed of going to Jerusalem, a place like Paradise where people wear white garments and they do not have to work. After waiting eight months, they were accepted for flight aboard the covert Operation Solomon, which airlifted over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews in a 36-hour mission in May, 1991. Before boarding, Avraham’s mother buried their remaining Ethiopian money, birr, because she thought they would not need money in the Promised Land.

Avraham’s memories of his childhood in Ethiopa included Pesach, when they eagerly anticipated the gift of matzot delivered by shluchim (emissaries), homemade soccer balls fashioned from old socks and electrical wire, and a world without television or cars, just as life was lived 200 years before. The transition from a traditional society to a modern one was especially hard for the elders, such as his grandparents who arrived later. His family spent a year in an absorption center, merkaz klita, learning to adjust to Israeli ways, including eating with forks and knives. Ethiopian foods, such as teff and injera, are eaten with the right hand.

Growing up in a rough neighborhood and with a single mother, Avraham lost his way when he was in his “foolish teen years,” tipesh esrei, when he was expelled from one school after another. No one wanted him any longer. This was a painful period for his mother, who cried in shame and sadness. “I decided that I was going to change. That if my mother was going to cry because of me, it would be with pride, not from sorrow.” On the advice of a friend attending school at the AMIT Kfar Blatt Youth Village in Petach Tikva, he wrote a letter of appeal to the director, Amiran Cohen. A visionary educator, Cohen had him sign a pledge of changes he would make in his life.

Cohen, who became a special friend, and the support network of surrogate parents, teachers, and social workers helped Avraham focus his intelligence. He had always been told that he had “much potential.” Upon passing the bagrut, matriculation exams, he was accepted into an elite intelligence unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and served with distinction as an outstanding soldier. His mother cried with pride and joy at this completion ceremony.

The IDF taught him discipline and it broadened Avraham’s horizons. He listened as his army mates of different backgrounds from all over the country shared their dreams for the future. He knew then he had to get an education, which was assisted by an IMPACT scholarship from the Friends of the IDF. He was the valedictorian and the top Ethiopian student graduating with a degree in government diplomacy from The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Later, when he earned a master’s in public service, also from the IDC, he gave a speech before an audience of 4,000 and his mother cried again from joy.

Now 30, Avraham is an entrepreneur and founder of an Internet start-up company and manager of a teen community house in Petach Tikva. He is also coordinator of a new program at the AMIT Rambam Elementary School in Netanya. Rambam was a failing school. The Ministry of Education appealed to AMIT to rescue this school, and AMIT now plans to designate it a magnet school, an innovative model that brings together in one school the top-achieving students with the most needy ones. Avraham’s program includes football (soccer to Americans), mentoring, and parent support. Coming from the same poor neighborhood and background, Avraham gives the children confidence that they, too, can succeed.

Avraham’s newest dream is to join the Knesset in the next election. A Social Democrat, he parts ways with the older Ethiopians who tend to vote Likud, although “it’s capitalist,” and they’re poor but they vote for the country’s security needs. His mother, for one, cannot bear to hear anything bad against Israel. (The Yesh Atid party, which won 19 seats in January, has two Ethiopians in its cabinet.) Barak Avraham’s future was paved by the caring leaders and staff of the AMIT schools.

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.

Hamas Instructions To Human Shields

This afternoon, the IDF dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip, warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives and infrastructure.

The first leaflet:

To the residents of Sheikh Ajlin, Tel Al-Hwa, Rimal South, Zeitoun, Sjaiya, Turkeman and Sajiya Jadida: For your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move towards the central Gaza city, via Al-Khara, Jma’at Al Dul Al Arabia, Al Aqsa Al Qudsiya, Um Alaimoun, Salah A-din, Al-Maqsurra, Hal’s Mjdad. In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the areas of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south.

The second leaflet:

To the residents of of the outskirts of Shati, Al-Atatra, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun: for your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move  towards central Gaza city via Al-Falujah, Al-Udda and Salah A-din. In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the roads of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south.

A short while ago, the Hamas interior ministry spokesman was interviewed on Al-Quds Radio in Gaza and urged his listeners to ignore the IDF warnings. IDF intelligence was listening to the broadcast and relayed the following transcript:

Question: As the bombings go on, I want to address a specific issue: People have been receiving text messages urging them to evacuate their houses…

Hamas Interior Ministry Spokesperson: This is all part of the psychological warfare held by the Zionist enemy… So by using this way of communication, our public radio, I address all our Palestinian brothers by saying: Please do not listen to the orders noted on these text messages, their only purpose is spreading fear and panic within our people.

The IDF does everything it can to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

A Letter From An IDF Soldier

— by Adam Klazmer

As you may know, I served in a combat unit of the Israeli Defense Forces — the Nahal Infantry Brigade’s 50th Battalion. This week, my friends and comrades were pulled out of the West Bank and moved to the border with the Gaza Strip in preparation for a possible ground invasion. Now that I am out of uniform, I better understand how difficult it can be on the outside but I refuse to feel helpless. There are still many ways we can help those in harm’s way.

I was in contact today with the head of Yashar LaChayal, a charitable organization that provides support to IDF soldiers.  Yahsar LaChayal means “Straight to the Soldier”.  My question was very simple and very blunt: What do you need and what will it cost? I received this reply:

Many units are on the border waiting. I made three trips today alone from suppliers to units. They need neck warmers, gloves, underwear, hats, and maybe thermals if weather gets colder, toiletries, etc. Most soldiers were on base for about 20 days and were expecting to go home for Shabbat. Pretty tense situation.

I am personally trying to raise $25,000 for my unit — Nahal 50.  This money will help keep my friends warm as they continue their preparations. Please do not think that these soldiers will be facing a mild winter.  Having lived through Philadelphia and Boston winters, I can honestly say that the coldest I have ever been (and probably ever will be) was during the winter on the border with Gaza.

All operational and administrative costs of Yashar LaChayal are paid annually by the Moskowitz family of Miami Beach.  This means that every dollar that you donate will help to equip an Israeli combat soldier. Yashar LaChayal is a registered non-profit in the US so all donations are 100% tax deductible.  

Please pass this article along to your friends and family — and encourage them to give what they can.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for anything you can do to help.
 

Cookies For IDF Soldiers!

Support IDF soldiers and reservists at the front line!

Bakery 29 will be distributing cookies to Israeli troops in the south with the help of the Association for the Well Being of Israeli Soldiers.

You may donate cookies online or email your order to Rani at [email protected] or [email protected]

Price is $15/lb.(131 NIS/kg), delivery included.

Bakery 29 is kosher dairy, with certification from the Tel-Aviv Rabbinate.

All of Bakery 29’s proceeds go to the IMPACT! Scholarship Program sponsored by Friends of the IDF.

We hope to make their day a bit sweeter!

Israel Begins “Pillar of Defense” In Response To Hamas Attacks From Gaza

PHILADELPHIA, PA. – In the last week alone, Hamas, a terrorist organization, has launched 150 rockets at Israel’s south. Currently, 15% of Israel’s population is currently under a terrorist attack.

Israel cannot tolerate the escalation of rocket fire aimed at its citizens.

To impair the terrorist infrastructure, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded with targeted strikes against those responsible.

The Israel Air Force (IAF) seriously impacted Hamas’s long-range missile capabilities and underground weapons storage facilities. The IAF has acted restrained and surgical in its response to the Hamas missile escalations, and has not targeted the long-range missiles stored in mosques, schools, and hospitals. Hamas, conversely, is deliberately firing at Israeli civilian population centers, including schools, hospitals and houses of worship.

More after the jump.  
Hamas rockets fired at Israeli civilians in the past have had a range of up to 25 miles. Today, the IDF targeted the Fajr-5, which has a range of nearly 40 miles, putting three million Israelis within terrorist missile range. This additional range encompasses the major metropolitan area of Tel Aviv.

As part of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel eliminated Ahmed al-Jabri, the head of the Hamas military wing, who joined Hamas in 1995 and rose to a senior leadership position in 2004. He was directly involved in numerous terrorist attacks against Israel, including the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.

“We are sending an unequivocal message that our citizens will not be hostage to terrorist missile fire and cross-border attacks,” Ambassador Michael Oren said. “The scope of the IDF’s defensive operation depends on Hamas and whether it takes the decision to cease firing missiles on our neighborhoods and homes. Israel has the right and duty to defend itself from terrorist attacks designed to kill thousands of its citizens.”

Consul General to the Mid-Atlantic Region in Philadelphia, Mr. Yaron Sideman commented, “We are not acting in a vacuum. In the past 24 hours, Israel has endured 120 missiles fired indiscriminately at our nation. In the past year, over 800 missiles were fired. In 2009, over 2500 missiles were fired at our citizens. Israel showed much restraint to numerous attacks. “
 

Veterans Day: Americans Visit Israel To Thank IDF Soldiers


FIDF supporters from the Ohio Region on the FIDF National Mission to Israel, standing next to one of the airplanes that participated in the attack of the Iraqi nuclear base in the 80’s. Photo credit Einav Rimon

TEL AVIV- November 11, 2012 – Over 50 prominent Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) lay leaders and supporters from the United States embarked on a unique seven-day journey to Israel as part of the FIDF National Mission to Israel to show their appreciation and support for Israel’s soldiers. The delegation arrived in Tel Aviv last Sunday, November 4th, 2012.

The FIDF mission, which was primarily aimed at acquainting participants with the IDF and its brave men and women in uniform, provided participants with the opportunity to spend time with IDF soldiers on various military bases across Israel. The group met with soldiers from several elite IDF bases, including the Machva Alon Educational base and the famous Nevatim Air Force base, where they met F-16 pilots. Mission participants were also given a special tour of the Gaza Border Region.

The group met with several top-level government and IDF officials, including the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, at his official Briefing Room, and Lt. Gen. (Res.) Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs, and the IDF’s 17th Chief of the General Staff.

More after the jump.


FIDF supporters at an IDF Air Force Base. Photo credit: Einav Rimon.

“The Friends of the IDF delegation which has embarked on this important journey to Israel signifies the deeply rooted connection between the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the brave soldiers who serve to protect it,”

said FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon.

This extraordinary mission to Israel culminated with a special FIDF ceremony, saluting the IDF commanders, at the Palmachim Air Force base. Hundreds of soldiers, FIDF supporters, and members of the IDF general staff, including IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, came together for an evening of celebration of and gratitude for Israel’s soldiers and the hard work they endure to protect the Jewish homeland and its people around the world.

Among the mission participants were FIDF National Chairman, Nily Falic; FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; and FIDF National President, Julian Josephson.

FIDF Mission participants with IDF soldiers on a base in the South of Israel.