“It reminds me what the service is all about,” Major says
An “Adopt a Unit” project has created a special bond between the 330 members of the Jewish community of Orange County and Battalion 330 of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Armored Corps.
A recent restructuring in the military resulted in the closure of the battalion. Now, as community members prepare to channel their support to another unit, the two groups describe the close relationship they formed despite having never met in person.
A decision by the IDF’s Chief of the General Staff to transform the assisting companies of the infantry and armored corps into “expose and assault” companies led to the closure of Battalion 330, which had been responsible for training the assisting armored corps at Shizafon Base. Trained soldiers will continue in their current role until they complete their service, whereas current and new recruits will be trained according to the new program.
The closure of Battalion 330 brought the need to say goodbye to 330 members of the Orange County community, who had adopted the Battalion as part of FIDF’s “Adopt a Unit” project. Project donations are usually made by individual families; however, the Jewish community of Orange County decided to contribute as a community.
Initially, 30 families gathered and decided that each family would donate $1,000 a year over three years to finance the initial adoption period. The funds were earmarked for Battalion events, recreational activities and grants that the commanders could award to soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
To increase community engagement and provide more opportunities to express support, an additional group was formed: “330 for 330”–Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) launched a campaign to mobilize 330 families, donating $100 a year each, over three years.
These donations were meant to fund additional Battalion activities such as a fitness package, scholarships for soldiers pursuing academic education after completing their service, and vouchers that the soldiers could use to buy groceries for the High Holidays and Passover.
“The COVID pandemic forced us to communicate over Zoom because they [the community members] could not fly to Israel,” recalls Major Menachem Goodman, the Battalion’s training officer. In an interview, he added: “They wanted to get to know the Battalion commander and me. We prepared a presentation that passed Security clearance which described the essential work the Battalion does, including recruitment, training and officer training.”
Alisa Abecassis, president of FIDF’s Orange County Chapter, said: “The video clips sent to us by Battalion 330 and the Zoom talks with the soldiers helped us solidify the bond between the soldiers and the community, so that the donors could see exactly how their money was being used and feel gratified that they support the soldiers who defend Israel.”
The Battalion’s training officer said the connection with community members was instantaneous.
“When we started the process, we had many lone soldiers from the U.S. Naturally, this helped strengthen ties. The community members are avid Zionists and lovers of Israel and the IDF, another reason for the natural bond that developed.”
Every few weeks, the regiment prepared and sent the community an overview of recent developments in the unit and the tasks it accomplished.
“We described our recent experiences and what lay ahead, what it means to be a lone soldier, and more. Two months ago, a film crew arrived to produce a video for the community,” said Goodman.
The support extended by the community was felt in a very real way, primarily through donations.
“During Operation Guardian of the Walls, just before the Jewish holidays, we were deeply moved to receive dozens of thank you letters from FIDF, including chocolates and a huge sign they printed for us, which we displayed at the base,” Goodman shared. “Gestures of this kind remind you what our service is about. We were profoundly touched by it.”
The donors’ representative, Abecassis, said the box held as many as 600 letters of gratitude and appreciation written and dedicated to the soldiers by the students at three Jewish schools.
“The extraordinary bond that formed between the community and Battalion 330 stirs our hearts. It exemplifies what David Ben-Gurion said: ‘A nation builds an army, which builds a nation.’” said Varda Drucker, project manager of “Adopt a Unit” for the past 16 years. “FIDF is our strategic partner. We are proud to have so many US communities adopt IDF battalions.”
The total donation is given to the regiment, which can use it for welfare activities under the IDF’s “Adopt a Fighter” command. FIDF plays a significant role in the project, having adopted 85 IDF Air, Navy and Ground units, including Battalion 330.
Now that Battalion 330 has closed, the Orange County contingent has adopted Regiment 183, also located in Shizafon. In this way, the community is continuing to maintain its high level of engagement.
“The community will follow the Regiment, stand by its side, and recognize its essential work for Israel’s defense,” the donors have promised.
Arnon Schwartzman is a contributing writer to MAKO and Jlife magazine.