July 19, 2024
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Zahal Shalom, Disabled IDF Vets Hosted by Bergen Families

Israeli veterans being hosted by Zahal Sha­lom of Bergen County this week had a wonder­ful time. Zahal Shalom is an international pro­gram started by a group of Jewish families from Geneva, Switzerland shortly after the Six-Day War. It has run for 23 years in Bergen County. Working with Beit Halochem, it brings groups of Israeli disabled veterans to spend two weeks with local host families, go sightseeing togeth­er, and party.

Each vet is also assigned a local buddy fam­ily, and other volunteers help out in a variety of ways. All trips start at Temple Israel in Ridge­wood. They include all the Israelis and at least as many hosts and buddies, and some of their children. After a couple of days everyone feels like they are one big happy family. The vets, of all ages, both male and female, are all mo­bile, welcoming, and enjoying the camaraderie among themselves and with their hosts.

JLBC first joined them last Wednes­day on their tour of the Museum of Nat­ural History and their cruise on the Circle Line. The highlight of the former was the Israeli picnic lunch enjoyed in an arbore­al nook in Central Park. The highlight of the latter was getting group pictures with Lady Liberty behind you, preferably with her face forward. The veterans and their hosts and buddies were having too much fun schmoozing to pay much attention to the ship’s guide. With that atmosphere and the roar of the engines, JLBC had difficulty engaging the veterans in lengthy conversa­tions, but was made to feel very welcome by all of them.

The ten veterans had started their vis­it on Sunday, June 8, being picked up at Newark Airport by the Executive Com­mittee. This organization has a commit­tee for everything, so the hectic two-week program runs quite smoothly all the time. That night each moved into their host fam­ily’s home and shared dinner with them. The first Monday’s all-day tour of Manhat­tan included the 9/11 Memorial, Rockefel­ler Center, the Top of the Rock, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and walking along 5th Avenue. Tuesday was spent at the Metropolitan Mu­seum and the Central Park Zoo. On Thurs­day, they toured Strawberry Fields and Times Square, where they saw “Mamma Mia” at the Wintergarden. Friday was set aside for carpooling to the Paramus malls until 4 p.m.. Saturday afternoon was spent at the home of one of the host families. Sunday was left open, so they could recu­perate from all the activities of week one.

On Monday, June 16, the IDF vets were bussed to Washington, DC to tour the Lin­coln, Vietnam, and Korean Memorials. Over­night they stayed at the Savoy Hotel and were treated to dinner at an Italian restaurant. The next morning they made a brief stop at the White House and then toured the Capitol, in­cluding lunch in the Senate Dining Room with a representative of Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land. Dinner was at a French bistro. Wednes­day morning was spent at Mount Vernon, and the afternoon was spent riding back to Bergen County. Thursday was spent luxuriating on the beach in Long Branch. Friday they are sched­uled to tour Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and then walk around the High Line. Shabbat will be another free day spent with hosts and/ or buddies. Saturday evening there will be a gala celebration dinner/fundraiser at Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff. Sunday is devoted to a Farewell Brunch at the Glen Rock Jewish Cent­er, followed by departure from Newark Airport.

After that, the veterans, from all over Isra­el, will be able to go home and tell family and friends about their adventure, and maybe have a chance to rest. If they are like previous dele­gations, at least some will make a point of get­ting together in Israel. And some of the hosts will travel to Israel sometime during the year to perhaps celebrate an occasion and to visit with their new mishpacha members. These vets may be their only family in Israel, and inspire their first trip there. They can expect to be welcomed as whole-heartedly by their Israeli veterans as they did the vets in Bergen County.

During these two weeks, both the Israe­lis and their hosts and buddies leave everyday life and concerns behind. Many host families make the period a kind of vacation, taking time off of work, and taking the kids out of school at the end of the year to enjoy a group trip to an interesting sight. Everyone wants to hug everyone else all the time. There are many cir­cles of bonds; those among the Israelis, those among the Americans, and most of all among members of both groups. Some hosts are rel­atively new to the program. Others have done it for several years. One hostess qvells in all the veterans calling her Ma.

The Israelis are hosted all-expenses-paid. These expenses are funded by individual con­tributions. Saturday night, June 21st at 7:30 is the Zahal Shalom fundraiser and farewell din­ner at Temple Beth Rishon, 585 Russell Ave­nue, Wyckoff. Admission is $65 for a buffet din­ner that includes beer and wine. If you can’t make the dinner, you can make a donation by sending your check to Scott Krim, 527 Old Post Road, Wyckoff, NJ 07481. Volunteer hosts are always welcome to join.

By Stephen Tencer

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