Friends of the Israel Defense Forces,(FIDF)an American charity, is a bulwark of help for Israel’s military. FIDF is keeping its promises with the motto, “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.” Their regional and national staff, local boards, and increasing American donor base are working overtime to ensure that Israel’s defenders know they can get help when needed during their service and afterwards. And plenty of help comes their way.
Founded in 1981 by three Holocaust survivors, the non-profit has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. It’s perfect timing since Israel’s security challenges are growing exponentially too. Shortly after I attended a recent, inspiring FIDF Gala, I interviewed Seth Baron, FIDF’s Southeast Regional Executive Director to explore the FIDF’s goals and successes. Yet, in between the numbers and statistics we discussed, Seth’s personal dedication came through loud and clear along with his description of the shared passion and commitment of the FIDF board, chapters, national leaders, and donors.
Seth explains FIDF’s purpose, “We take care of the humanitarian needs of the soldiers, the person ‘inside the uniform.’ We’re the only organization that directly funds and supports the combat soldiers themselves. The future of the Jewish homeland is on their shoulders and we have their backs.” With a smile he added, “I come to an office, but I don’t ‘go to work.’ I’m fulfilling a personal passion. It’s all about the soldiers. It’s amazing what they do to support Israel. It’s the least I can do to support them. These kids are heroes, and some will become legends.”
“If you support Israel, you have to support the soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. If not for the IDF, there would be no Israel.”
Seth Baron, Executive Director-Southeast Regional FIDF
When I asked Seth what motivated him, he was quick to describe the relationships with young men and women who wear the IDF uniform. “It’s all about the soldiers. Spending time with them and hearing their stories is an emotional and easy connection.” While it was difficult to choose one out of many stories, he described a young female combat medic.”In the middle of the night, Donat triaged 28 wounded soldiers during a firefight in GAZA with Hamas terrorists. It was summer of 2014 during Operation Protective Edge.” Yonat Daskal-Dagan was one of a few females inside Gaza, serving with the Nahal Brigade. Yonat traveled to Atlanta and spoke at the Atlanta Gala in May of 2015 and throughout the Southeast Region later the same year. “Their old and new stories supply my motivation. Their dedication to Israel’s safety tugs at my heart. When I see their faces, it’s all worth it.” Late last year, Seth attended Yonat’s wedding. He was already scheduled to be in Israel so was able to celebrate with her and her family.
FIDF is a non-political and non-military organization resting on six pillars of help including Education, Lone Soldiers, Fallen and Wounded, Adopt a Unit, Financial Relief, and Construction. Each of FIDF’s core pillars are life changing programs that sustain the nation’s future. Last year, FIDF touched the lives of more than 105,000 soldiers, veterans and bereaved family members. The brief descriptions outlined next are but a hint of the massive, far-reaching value of the FIDF’s outreach.
IMPACT! SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM is the educational component which includes academic assistance to combat soldiers from low socioeconomic backgrounds. When accepted, the soldiers are required to volunteer 130 hours of community service per year. Since its inception in 2002, IMPACT! is now the largest volunteer program in Israel with over 5 million hours already amassed. At the beginning of the 2018 academic year, FIDF offered 1,430 new IMPACT! scholarships to former IDF combat soldiers, now supporting over 4,200 students throughout Israel’s colleges and universities. In 2018, through FIDF’s Education Pillar, over 66,000 soldiers also benefited from a Spiritual Needs program where FIDF links the soldiers with Shabbat getaways that provide home and heritage connections.
LONE SOLDIERS program supports the young men and women from across the world who serve in the Israel military. FIDF wants to make sure they never feel alone. More than 3,500 Lone Soldiers were served in important ways, even including flights home during their 3 years of service to visit their families in other countries like Australia, Belarus, Argentina, France and South Africa. Approximately 1,000 U.S. Lone Soldiers serve in Israel.
FALLEN AND WOUNDED
IDF soldiers and families experience an enormous comfort not only with FIDF’s outreach to bereaved families-6,350 families in 2018- but provision of prosthetics and soldier-to-soldier mentoring which help 2,710 wounded veterans put their lives back together. The IDF provides medical care yet, when needed, the FIDF covers the short fall. Much like the United States with its VA programs, Israel’s government cannot do everything and welcomes the support from FIDF.
FINANCIAL RELIEF helps ease the burden for needy soldiers through, for example, special grants, holiday and food vouchers, and appliances. In 2018, more than 8,000 soldiers benefited. FIDF also runs PROJECT OVERCOME to help rehabilitate youth with behavior problems. The goal is to improve their lives and give them possible eligibility in the IDF.
ADOPT A UNIT is also becoming a favorite way for supporters to engage with the IDF. In 2018, FIDF communities in the US adopted 10 Brigades, supporting 37,500 soldiers along with FIDF’s SPIRIT PROGRAM which provided rest and recuperation for 18,547 weary soldiers. In addition, FIDF supporters have adopted 54 Battalions and 22 Squadrons. The Southeast Region has adopted the Combat Collection Corps. Seth described the Corps’ work. “If you have seen the videos of Hamas terrorists entering Israel through tunnels or recently saw 7 ISIS fighters trying to cross into Israel from Syria last year, this is the task of the Combat Collection Corps. It’s known as the ‘Eyes of Israel’. Our region is proud to have adopted this brigade comprised of over 52% female soldiers.”
CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS engage the young men and women in opportunities to build recreation and sports centers, synagogues, and memorial rooms among other projects which help create a “home away from home” environment while they are in service.
FIDF’s important work and successes rest in capable hands, including National Director and CEO Major General (Res) Meir Klifi-Amir and Brigadier General Effi Edan heading up the FIDF Israel office. Seth went on to explain FIDF’s financial increases saying, “In 2013 FIDF raised $70 million dollars. In 2018, we reached $139 million. Even though we are the largest fundraising organization in the world for IDF, we’ve only scratched the surface. I just can’t say ‘Thank You’ enough to our supporters.”
In Atlanta, where Seth also oversees 6 southern states-Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama, donations have increased by 650% since 2013 when FIDF hired him as their Executive Director. Seth emphasized, “Unfortunately, the threats facing Israel continue to grow, whether its antisemitism, Hamas rockets from Gaza, Iranians in Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon, the security of Israel falls on the shoulders of these brave men and women serving in the IDF. It’s the soldiers who make it possible for Israeli citizens, Jews, Arabs, Christians and other groups to live in our homeland. It’s the IDF that makes it possible for everyone to visit Israel.”
Baron concluded by saying, “My good friend Garry Sobel, Chairman Emeritus for the FIDF Southeast Region, meaningfully states, ‘As long as there is an IDF, there will always be an FIDF.’” For more information, log on to http://www.FIDF.org/
“Israel’s story-the IDF’s story-is the story of thousands of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives, who fell rescuing their friends, or defending innocents in battle. IDF General Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s fifth Prime Minister