The bond between discharged IDF soldiers and Jews in the Diaspora

As a Jew living in the Diaspora, I have always had a deep regard and affection for the soldiers of the IDF. In my youth they took on the form of superheroes fighting for the safety of the state of Israel and for all Jews around the world. They were fearless warriors carrying out dangerous and secret missions that were unprecedented in their inventiveness and degrees of risk.

Now, as an older adult, I see them as the young men and women that they are; ruddy faced and innocent in so many ways but with an air of determination and purpose. When we visit Israel and see scores of soldiers standing at the side of the road looking for a ride or simply walking along the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, their guns at their sides, those of us who live outside of this incredible country are in awe of these brave young soldiers and have an overwhelming desire to reach out and convey our appreciation for their service. Few of us are able to demonstrate the enormous gratitude that we have for their sacrifice, so I feel very fortunate, indeed, that I have been given the opportunity to facilitate that desire here in Canada.

Connecting former elite IDF combat units and families in Toronto, in a very personal way, is truly an honour and extremely rewarding. From the moment a unit of discharged soldiers lands at Pearson International Airport and walks through the sliding doors at arrivals, something very magical takes place. An intangible bond begins to form between the visitors and their hosts.

The Israelis are, more often than not, at a complete loss as to why they are greeted with such warmth and unconditional acceptance.  We are strangers to them, yet we behave as though they are our long lost sons and brothers as we embrace them and invite them into our homes. Even after they leave us, we continue the friendship that was nurtured in such a short period of time by keeping in touch via Skype, email, telephone and endless visits to Israel.

It is this unbreakable bond that we have for one another that sets us apart from other nations.  We know, on some level, that these young men could easily be our own sons and therefore we have this innate need to protect and defend them. We were all glued to the Internet and to our television sets last summer during Operation Protective Edge and wept at the news of each fallen IDF soldier. They are strangers only in a literal sense for when we look at their young faces, we see our own children.  Israel is not simply a country in the Middle East for many Jews living in the Diaspora, Israel is our home and we will do whatever we can to contribute to its economy and to support the land of our ancestors in an emotional and philosophical way. The bottom line is that Israel’s existence is critical to our own existence and this bond can never be broken.

About the Author
Felicia Gopin is Executive Director of Peace of Mind Canada, an organization that is dedicated to facilitating emotional and psychological support for discharged IDF elite combat soldiers who have undergone difficult battle situations. Units of approximately 15-20 young men participate in the POM program in Canada for one week of intensive group therapy and bonding with the Jewish community. This unique 9- month long process includes orientation and concluding sessions in Israel, 3-month interval follow-ups and individualized therapy for those who require further interventions.