April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Bergen Contingent Joins FIDF Unification Mission to Auschwitz and Israel

For Rona Anhalt of Englewood, the “blown away” moment of the recent FIDF mission was Shabbat morning in the Krakow Synagogue when survivor Ed Mosberg, 90, was called up to the bimah by IDF cantorial superstar Colonel Shai Abramson, together with liberator William Bryant Phelps, a strapping 6-6 at age 90. “The realization that Mosberg had been liberated from Mathausen 70 years prior by the 11th Armored Division in which Phelps was a soldier made the congregation break out in spontaneous, joyful songs of praise. IDF soldiers, liberators, survivors and young participants of March of the Living had converged to celebrate this precious moment of glory and survival in our nation’s history. Here we were in a synagogue with hundreds of years of Jewish history that had been sealed for over 70 years, celebrating the reunion of a Texan hero with a Polish survivor, surrounded by the young strength that was providing our people with protection in our country and throughout the world,” Anhalt said.

The FIDF “From Holocaust to Independence” mission, which took place from May 5–14, was filled with many such moments as it uniquely combined three key participant populations. Led by FIDF National President, Peter Weintraub, and National Director and CEO, Major General (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the purpose of the mission was to “span Jewish history, from the darkest moments to the most inspiring. The American and Israeli soldiers and survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, beginning at Tarnow, once home to thousands of Jews, and tracing their steps from Krakow’s Jewish ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. The delegation will then fly on an Israel Air Force (IAF) transport jet from Poland to Israel, where they will commemorate Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and celebrate Israel’s 68th Independence Day.”

In the words of Gen. Klifi-Amir, “The mission will tell the story of our near-extinction in Europe, the creation of a Jewish homeland and the new generation of a Jewish army that watches over our legacy today, making sure that ‘never again’ and ‘never forget’ are not just phrases, but rather promises. Marching with our brave IDF soldiers into the Auschwitz-Birkenau dreadful camp sends a message to the world that we remember, and that the Holocaust cannot, and will not, ever happen again.”

For Rachel Scherl, of South Orange, this description rang true many times throughout the trip. Rachel and husband Zev have been involved with FIDF for four years, specifically with the Lone Soldier program. Back in December, when her sister-in-law Jodi Scherl made a commitment to join the mission and urged her to join as well, Rachel knew there would not be many such opportunities in the future.

For Scherl, there were two outstanding moments during the trip that encapsulated everything for her. The first was their entrance to Auschwitz. “We were two survivors, three veterans of the US armed forces who had liberated the camps, 40 IDF soldiers and 50 Jews from FIDF chapters all over the world. We marched in bearing the sadness of history but at the same time the strength of our current history. A major general of the Israeli army holding the arm of a Holocaust survivor pushing a wheelchair-bound liberator! We marched in singing, hopeful, proud. For me, this image says it all.”

Scherl’s second “aha” moment occurred on the IAF transport jet from Poland to Israel. In speaking with the group, a young, Israeli soldier aboard admitted that when he was 13 years old, the idea of a Bar Mitzvah was alien and meaningless to him. But today, at age 31 (13 in reverse), after the experience in Poland with the mission, he would welcome a Bar Mitzvah as his show of Jewish pride in belonging to a nation of such heroes. At this point, the IDF Rabbi aboard was determined that it would happen. Celebratory pictures were taken in the cockpit with the pilot. Upon landing, the plane was met with a contingent of IDF soldiers who placed the “Bar Mitzvah” boy on their shoulders and danced him on the tarmac to the sounds of jubilant singing. What better tribute to the mission’s objective than to ignite a young soldier’s pride in being connected to his people!

For Jodi Scherl of Englewood, participation in the mission was a natural outgrowth of husband Saul’s involvement for the past five years in Northern New Jersey’s branch of FIDF. Saul Scherl has been involved in FIDF’s project to build a new state-of-the-art IDF army base in the Negev. According to Scherl, “FIDF supplements the activities of the IDF to enhance the army and post-army lives of soldiers. For those on active duty, FIDF adds amenities to drab and isolated bases through bringing in state-of-the-art gyms, TV rooms, lounges, exercise and spin rooms and other comforts. After soldiers are discharged, FIDF affords need-based scholarships for higher education opportunities to soldiers for whom these funds are life-changing.”

Having been on the FIDF mission, Saul Scherl was supportive of his wife’s decision to participate this year. For Jodi Scherl, “being accompanied by a Sefer Torah wherever we traveled and concluding every ceremony with the singing of Hatikva imbued me with pride and elation. I began to understand where we had been and to what point we have risen and how privileged we are to have our own, special homeland.”

For Scherl, a special perk of the mission was the close relationship she was able to establish with Ambassador Michael Oren and his wife. “They invited us to accompany them to the Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony on Har Herzl. What a privilege to experience the momentous occasion of Israel’s Independence Day with one of its most vociferous advocates!”

FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization with the mission of offering educational, cultural, recreational and social programs and facilities that provide hope, purpose and life-changing support for the soldiers who protect Israel and worldwide. Today, FIDF has more than 150,000 loyal supporters, and 16 regional offices throughout the US and Panama. FIDF proudly supports IDF soldiers, families of fallen soldiers and wounded veterans through a variety of innovative programs that reinforce the vital bond between the communities in the United States, the soldiers of the IDF and the State of Israel. For more information, please visit www.fidf.org.

By Pearl Markovitz

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