IT IS JEWISH TRADITION to look after Israel, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) does that and so much more. In support of the well-being of the IDF’s brave soldiers, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) takes care of these young men and women through social and educational programs during their quest to save lives.
The mission of the IDF is: “To defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Israel. To protect the inhabitants of Israel and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten the daily life.”
The IDF: Saving Lives
The IDF’s “Operation Good Neighbor”— its effort to provide aid to Syria, Israel’s war-torn neighbor, and also an enemy country – involves treating Syrians, especially sick children or those injured in the six-year-long civil war, at clinics in Israel, and providing hundreds of tons of food, medicine and fuel sent to ravaged border towns.
There are many stories of victims in Syria and the Israeli soldiers who treat them. According to Lt. Col. Tomer Koller, the medical officer of the Bashan Division in the Golan Heights, “The treatment of wounded Syrians is continuous, and is carried out on a near-daily basis. It’s our duty as members of the Medical Corps to treat the injured – both the ally and the enemy. To us, they’re injured people who need help.”
“It started with one injured Syrian who came to the border four years ago, asking for medical help. Back then, there was no policy, just a commander’s on-the-spot decision not to oppose providing care to an injured person,” said Koller. “From then on, about 2,800 injured Syrians have entered Israel to receive medical care, and the number continues to rise.”
In 2016 alone, 600 Syrians were treated in Israeli hospitals. Currently, the IDF operates a field hospital on the Syrian border to receive wounded. “The numbers tell you how many injured people there were, but at the end of the day, every injured person has their own story,” Koller added.
“The story of the treatment of all those who need it is a story of compassion and the IDF’s ethical code,” Koller explained. “Even though we take care not to get involved in the internal fighting in Syria, the treatment of any injured person who needs help – regardless of nationality or which side of the border they come from – stands above all, and this is who we are as a society.”
The Islamic State group (ISIS), Syria’s al-Qaida affiliated Nusra Front, Syrian rebels, and the Syrian government itself, are all players in the back-and-forth fighting taking place on Israel’s northern border – with the Syrian population caught in the crossfire.
“The army is continually prepared in this sector… we are learning and preparing for the situation on the ground, preparing to fight,” said Sgt. Chatooka, a soldier in the Golani Reconnaissance Company, which guards the border and has witnessed a range of events – from the takeover of the Quneitra Crossing to the bombing of rebel forces by the Syrian regime.
There are so many heartwarming stories of how the IDF has helped children. Medic Sgt. Aviya recalls one case when she and her team were called to treat a 10-year-old Syrian boy who had been badly injured by an explosion. He was in shock when they found him. Aviva and her team administered first aid and prepared the wounded and confused boy for a quick evacuation to a hospital in Israel.
”When we finished treating him, the kid looked up at us and gave us this little bashful smile. I understood that we may have just saved the life of this child, but no less important, we had created this bridge between two worlds. That’s the beauty of being part of this team,” said Aviva.
A worldwide leader in the field of medicine and disaster relief, the Israeli army’s field hospital, which is regularly sent abroad to provide aid at natural disaster sites, was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the number one in the world.” The field hospital was classified as WHO’s first and only “Type 3” field hospital – the highest rating the U.N. medical arm can bestow.
The IDF field hospital is run by Medical Corps doctors and active-duty and reserves soldiers, and has provided immediate, high quality medical care to patients. In addition to caring for Syrians, the IDF has provided medical care in Turkey, Nepal, Haiti, the Philippines and numerous other countries, following disasters both natural and man-made.
When asked what the most difficult part of his job is, Cpl. Yoad, an IDF paramedic treating wounded Syrians, responded: “The hardest thing for me is seeing wounded children. There was a whole family that was hurt – a mother, a son and a little girl. The mother suffered a terrible stomach injury and so did her daughter – her intestines were sticking out. The son needed a respirator and was unconscious with a head injury. From the translator, we learned that a missile hit their home. We laid the little girl down next to her mother and brother, treated them, and the mother and daughter were sent to one hospital, and the son to another.”
“It was so hard for them to be separated, and for the little girl to see her mother in that condition. It’s not always easy to see these things, and it’s not easy to keep a clear head all the time. When the work gets to me, I talk to the other paramedics, and we lift each other up. It really helps.”
One doctor, Lt. Col. Dr. Ofer Merin, who was deployed to Haiti in 2010, recalls a day filled with milestones. Upon admitting the first patient to the pediatrics section of the field hospital, a baby was born. Admirably, the baby was named Israel. He had the privilege of being in the delivery room minutes after Israel was delivered. “What was felt in that room was the essence of hope – the feeling that after such a horrific experience, life, and especially new life, continues,” he said.
The IDF doesn’t just save lives near home. Following destruction from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the IDF repaired damaged infrastructures with schools and water facilities.
Within two weeks, 2,686 patients – 848 of whom were children – had been treated in the field hospital in Bogo City by IDF doctors. According to Col. Dr. David Dagan, commander of the IDF field hospital: “The experts we brought are on the forefront of their fields in Israel. The doctors, nurses, and medical staff (who came) here left their homes, families and jobs immediately upon hearing there was a need… motivated by compassion and guided by the human values of dignity and friendship.”
Further, the IDF is responsible for numerous innovative and life-saving technologies. Recently, a group of officers in training invented smart ID bracelets that identify a soldier’s blood type, body temperature, medications, heart rate, and blood pressure to enable faster medical care. Once soldiers are brought to hospital facilities, they receive more advanced care based on these pre-identified factors.
Some 70 percent of IDF soldiers agree to donate bone marrow samples, which contribute exponentially to saving lives from leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and a variety of diseases. This has resulted in Israel having the highest per-capita bone marrow registry in the world.
As the IDF saves lives with its humanitarian missions, Friends of the IDF changes the lives of those IDF soldiers through its mission: “To offer 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.”
Among its projects, FIDF constructs, refurbishes and maintains buildings for the well-being of IDF soldiers – including sports centers, culture halls, synagogues, memorial rooms, swimming pools, and soldiers’ homes throughout Israel. FIDF’s newest series of projects includes the well-being and education centers at the IDF Training Campus in the Negev, where FIDF funded the construction of 12 facilities at a cost of $43 million.
In 2016, FIDF helped 710 wounded IDF veterans rebuild their lives, with financial aid, mentoring, recreational activities, employment assistance, and advanced athletic prostheses through the Strides Program. FIDF supported over 2,800 Lone Soldiers – those who immigrate to Israel from all over the world without immediate family in order to enlist – and flew them home to visit their loved ones, and FIDF supporters formed unbreakable bonds with the soldiers of eight brigades and 68 battalions, squadrons and flotillas. FIDF also provided assistance to 1,351 IDF widows, orphans, and siblings of fallen soldiers through life-cycle celebrations, including trips to the U.S. for bar and bat mitzvah children, R&R weeks in Israel, and special family days. Over 8,000 soldiers in-need were given financial aid by FIDF, including critical aid for basic appliances and furniture, food vouchers, special grants, and holiday gift vouchers.
But standout among FIDF’s many programs is the IMPACT! Scholarship Program, which grants full, four-year academic scholarships to IDF combat veterans of modest means.
The FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship Program – Changing Lives
For the 2016-17 academic year, FIDF granted 4,025 IMPACT! scholarships to IDF combat veterans who could not afford the cost of higher education, sponsoring students at over 90 institutions throughout Israel. Through this program, FIDF helps to guarantee that Israel’s soldiers continue to grow as educated citizens and leaders.
Each IMPACT! student volunteers in the community for a total of 130 hours each year of their studies, ensuring these veterans pay it forward by helping at 20 different nonprofit organizations.
Since the inception of the FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship Program in 2002, IMPACT! students have volunteered over 4.5 million hours of community service, making it the top scholarship program providing community service in Israel. More than 7,000 IMPACT! graduates have entered the Israeli workforce to date.
Trevor Gnesin, CEO of Logomark, a leading supplier of personalized gift and promotional products in Tustin, Calif., became involved in the IMPACT! Program following an FIDF mission to Israel.
On the mission last year, he was so moved and inspired after spending time with IDF soldiers, that he decided to sponsor four IMPACT! students.
“For me, it’s about giving someone else an opportunity in life,” said Gnesin. “Everyone needs a start in life, to make a change and to improve the situation in Israel. Through the IMPACT! Program, the students will improve themselves and other people.” He realizes that after completing their military duty in Israel, these students will appreciate the opportunity for a chance to attend college. As a former soldier in his native South Africa’s military, he also appreciates that military life, and the transition to being a student, is not that easy.
“When I arrived in this country as a Jew, I was an immigrant and I received orders for my company immediately through the Jewish community as they were interested in helping others,” said Gnesin, who was offered support from members of the Jewish community when he first came to the U.S. and whose company has grown to 380 employees. “For me, it is about giving back,” said Gnesin.
“We need to take care of those who are not in a financial position to attend college.” He considers the three most important areas forming a platform for success: “Education, standing together and helping each other.”
Gnesin believes that the military teaches skills such as discipline; however, soldiers learn that to be successful in life, one must operate as a team player. He believes that due to their commitment and skills cultivated in the military, these students will complete their degree.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” said Gnesin, who sees his educational support for IDF veterans as an investment in Israel’s future. “These young people need to have the ability to help the next generation, economically, through the military, education and industry.”
Gnesin hopes to be available to offer his IMPACT! students more support and guidance, and, should they need employment in the United States upon completion of their education, he would consider hiring them.
He also expressed a great love for Israel and that, for him, the heart of Judaism is supporting the soldiers of the IDF. He believes that if we educate them to do it themselves, creativity and ingenuity will be passed on to future generations in Israel.
Impressed that all dollars donated to the FIDF IMPACT! Program go directly to the students and for textbooks, he urges others to contribute to the program. According to Gnesin, for the price of a nice vacation, the community could put one veteran through college, and help make Israel’s future more secure.
Gnesin is not just about giving today, but also supporting tomorrow. He believes that through our efforts, Israel will continue to evolve through education and leadership.
Gnesin’s IMPACT! Scholarship recipients shared their experiences and their gratitude. One of his students, Itzik Vaisman, said, “I’m 24 years old, a first-year data systems engineer student at Ben Gurion University. I completed my military service about a year ago, after three years of active-duty service as a communications technician and two more years as a commander in an Israeli Air Force operational unit. During my service, I was considered a Lone Soldier because I have no parents who can support me.
“After I finished my military service, I started my academic studies. I had no idea how I would be able to pay for my studies and support myself through that period, until I heard about the FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship Program. Thanks to Mr. Gnesin and FIDF, I can be sure I’m dedicating my time and efforts to succeed in school and become the person I see myself in the future. The FIDF IMPACT! Program enables me to become a more devoted student and at the same time to volunteer and help young children to realize their potential at Appleseeds Academy, the nonprofit organization with which I’ve been volunteering as part of the FIDF IMPACT! Program.”
Baruch Pikar, another student Gnesin sponsors, had this to say: “As this year is ending and I am starting the summer vacation, I’ve been wondering how I ever managed to finish two semesters of industrial engineering at Tel Aviv University. It was not easy at all, and as a married young man who lives in a rented apartment, I needed to dedicate all of my time to studying rather than working. I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of the FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship Program.
“Besides the fact that FIDF has helped me financially and with my college tuition, I had the great honor of volunteering at Acharai, a nonprofit organization that helps young boys and girls in high school and prepares them for a meaningful service in the IDF. As a former combat officer in the Givati infantry brigade, I know how important this preparation is to these young people.
“I think that studying engineering in one of the best universities in Israel, along with the special work I do at Acharai, will not only make me a better engineer, but a better person. The FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship enables a lot of young people who finished their military service to study towards an academic degree and enter the ‘real’ world from a better position. I’m one of them.”
The important questions to ask oneself during every time of need for Israel are: “If not now, when?” and “If not us, who?”
This November 19, FIDF will proudly honor the heroic efforts of the IDF’s Home Front Command – which responds to emergency situations and saves lives in Israel and around the world – at its inaugural Orange County Gala.
The gala event, co-chaired by Sima and Steven Abelowitz and Mandy and Marc Maister, will be held at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport at 5:30 p.m.
Don’t miss this opportunity to honor the IDF’s worldwide humanitarian efforts and support the well-being of Israeli soldiers!