By Deborah Vietor
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’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; while 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,” Koller says. “Back then, there was no policy, just a commander’s on-the-spot decision not to oppose providing care to an injured person. 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 adds.
“The story of the treatment of all those who need it is a story of compassion and the IDF’s ethical code,” Koller says. “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,” says 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,” Aviva says.
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 both natural and man-made disasters.
When asked what the most difficult part of his job is, Cpl. Yoad, an IDF paramedic treating wounded Syrians, responds: “The hardest thing for me is seeing wounded children. There was a whole family that was hurt, [including] a mother, a son and a little girl. The mother suffered a terrible stomach injury and so did her daughter … 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 says.
The IDF doesn’t just save lives near home. Following destruction from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the IDF repaired damaged infrastructure at 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 total 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 in the IDF — 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.
Nancie Vann is vice president and director of corporate accounts at Brown and Bigelow Promotional Advertising in San Diego. Mrs. Vann and her husband Rick have supported the IMPACT! Program over the years, sponsoring college educations for combat soldiers who have completed their military service.
When a friend invited Vann to the FIDF’s San Diego gala, and she heard firsthand from IMPACT! students and supporters, she says, “I was blown away by what can be done.”
Vann was impressed with how FIDF, through the IMPACT! Program, has sponsored soldiers from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds — many of whom are minorities or disadvantaged in some way — and offered them opportunities for growth through education.
One of the young women Vann and her family sponsored, Bat-El Maimon, has truly become an extension of their family. She expressed her gratitude to Mrs. Vann: “Thank you for giving me my future!”
“I want to start from the end — today, here and now,” says Maimon. “I want to thank all the people in my life who helped me to think and say these words; my American family — Nancie and Rick Vann, the FIDF IMPACT! Program, and the many things I’ve been through in my life. The support from my American family made me believe in the best in this world, you give something to the world and the world gives you back — like magic.
“I decided to study economics and political science at Ariel University. My experience with the FIDF IMPACT! Program, and my volunteering at the nonprofit organization Latet, where I helped the community and society, taught me so much about myself and about the social conditions in Israel. I think that without FIDF, I would have been a different type of person than I am today.”
Maimon presented Vann with a hand painted canvas and a photo of herself with soldiers in her unit at their first meeting in Israel, after Vann and her husband had sponsored Maimon’s education for two years. The Vanns, in turn, presented Maimon with a family photo.
Another of the Vann’s students, Hannah Davidov, is originally from Russia and the daughter of a maid. After completing her service in the IDF, Davidov was able to attend Braude College in Carmiel, Israel, thanks to the Vanns, who have sponsored her for two years now.
“I am the second person to receive a scholarship from the Vann family. I am 26 years old and in my second year of studying for an electrical engineering degree,” says Davidov. “I was a combat-support soldier, installing optical instruments, like binoculars, for soldiers near Gaza, and I was there during Operation Protective Edge.
“Rick and Nancie Vann contacted me this year and I met them in May 2017 in Israel while they were on an FIDF delegation to Israel. I was so happy to meet them – and we are still in contact today. They are wonderful and caring people who love Israel and support veterans. I adore them! They deserve only good things in life!
“My mother raised me alone with no financial means. And so, the Vann family is like my second family. Without them I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pursue a higher education.
I am very thankful to have them in my life and I will make them very proud of me!”
Mrs. Vann believes that meeting her students further enhances the experience of sponsoring them, and she credits FIDF for supporting families and students alike in furthering these relationships: “We can see we are changing someone’s life. These two people have become a part of our life as Jewish people. The joy has transcended anything we have given them.”
Through the IMPACT! Program, Mrs. Vann says: “We can do something for soldiers who have done so much for the country. We can give them a future and an opportunity.”
There are so many ways that we Americans can support the well-being of soldiers and veterans like these through FIDF. 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 18, 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 annual San Diego Gala. The gala event, co-chaired by Tamara and David Klein and Heidi and Russel Silberstein, will be held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt at 6:45 p.m. Don’t miss this opportunity to honor the IDF’s worldwide humanitarian efforts and support the well-being of Israeli soldiers! For tickets or more information, please visit www.fidfsd.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (858) 926-3210.