Over the past few weeks our community has been hurting as we watch terror unfold in Israel. It is incredible to see pictures and read articles about the incomparable soldiers of the IDF as they respond with bravery and dedication. Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, FIDF, is an organization committed to helping these soldiers with educational, social, cultural and recreational programs and facilities. They have additional programs for lone soldiers, wounded soldiers and bereaved families. On November 23, the FIDF New Jersey Chapter will hold their 11th Annual Gala, at the Sheraton Parsippany Hotel.
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir has served as the organization’s national director and CEO since September 2014. After a distinguished 33-year career in the IDF, holding several command positions and serving as the Military Secretary to Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu, he decided to move his family to New York and take on this role. He said, “When I saw the people that came to talk to me and try to bring me to the organization and I saw their love, their commitment to the Israeli state and Israeli soldiers, I told my wife I cannot say no. If I can connect every day, Jew or non-Jew, to Israel, to be an ambassador, to be a supporter of Israel through our cause, I can sleep well at night.” His service in the IDF makes him acutely aware of the needs of those currently serving.
Klifi-Amir recalls receiving care packages when he was a soldier. “When I got the box it didn’t matter what was in the box when I opened it. It was the feeling that people around the world, that didn’t know me personally, knew very clearly that they wanted to say thank you.” He said that FIDF continues this program so that “combat soldiers in the field get support, a world hug. This kind of feeling builds the morale of the soldiers defending the Israeli state and Jews all over the world.”
Many soldiers who have completed their service need support to complete their education. FIDF is there to help them. Last year, one FIDF program, IMPACT, sent nearly 1,000 soldiers to university. According to Klifi-Amir, these soldiers “came from very bad economic backgrounds. They have the potential but not the money to study at university in Israel. We send them to those universities. This year we will send about 1,250—we increased the number 20 percent. It’s amazing and I am so proud of that. We can change their life. For some of them it’s the first time someone told them ‘Go do it. You can do it.’” Graduates of this program have a 97 percent graduation rate compared to 80 percent for the rest of the Israeli population. “These kids understand very well this is the only chance to change their life forever, and they will not miss it.”
FIDF is also passionate about supporting lone soldiers in the IDF. Klifi-Amir noted that in the IDF there are “3,000 lone soldiers from 60 different countries all over the world. They leave their country, their homeland, their neighborhood and their parents and they come alone to Israel.” He connects this bravery with that of Avraham, boldly leaving his homeland in Parshat Lech Lecha, but adds that “for lone soldiers it’s not only the voice of God, but also the voice of their hearts—their morals and the education they received at home and in their communities.”
FIDF has many programs in place to ensure that lone soldiers never feel alone in Israel. Through FIDF, lone soldiers are matched with Israeli families who can support them and host them during breaks. FIDF also built a home in Ramat Gan that can accommodate 150-200 lone soldiers. Klifi-Amir wants lone soldiers to enjoy their vacation just like other soldiers. He explained that “the home is like a hotel. They have a room, a bed, all that they need…Shabbat dinner, laundry…after those three or four days they go back and feel like they had a good time.” The FIDF also operates a 24-hour call center for lone soldiers so that “they can get all the answers and arrangements for any request they will have.”
This year’s N.J. Gala will honor Sammy Bar-Or and his son, Tal Bar-Or. Sammy Bar-Or was a lone soldier who made aliyah from Iran when he was 13. He served as a paratrooper in the IDF from 1970-1973. Years later, Sammy, together with his friends, former lone soldiers Mike Gross and Avi Oren, started the FIDF NJ Chapter. For this reason, the NJ Chapter is often referred to as the “Lone Soldier Chapter.” Klifi-Amir stresses that these three friends “have those feelings that they need to continue to support the lone soldiers and I really thank [them for] all of their efforts to support the lone soldiers in Israel.”
Klifi-Amir sees the gala as an opportunity to “bring hundreds of people to one room, to carry the spirit of the IDF, the spirit of the FIDF. Soldiers and officers will be there to talk about the meaning of protecting Israel and Jews all over the world. It’s a very emotional event. The NJ community is known for supporting lone soldiers. Yes, [our supporters] are living here, but their hearts are in the right place. Their hearts are in Israel. They say ‘we believe that the values and the cause that Israel fought [for] are the same values and the same cause that we have.’ For the Israeli state to get that message, specifically in these days, is the most important thing that every Jew can do for Israel. To stand with Israel, to show his solidarity and to say we are brothers and we are with you.”
To learn more about the Gala, please visit www.FIDF.org/NJDinner or contact Howard Gases, Director of the NJ Chapter, at [email protected].
By Robin Tare