February 2022ISRAELL'CHAIM

The Circle of Friends of the Israeli Defense Force Grows

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By Barbara Birenbaum

Three cheers, four stars and high fives are going out to the San Diego chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Force which, thanks to chairman Alan Katz, now includes Orange County, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. As Alan steps down this month from the chairship he’s held for a number of years, it’s a delight to make note of some of their best successes.

A chance meeting of parents on the soccer field with then director Nir Benzvi brought the FIDF to Alan’s attention and it was his first Mission in 2014 that won him over. According to Katz, ”the most important thing is the continuation of support for the young men and women who serve to protect the state of Israel” and are the first to offer aid around the world. Jews everywhere know in their blood that the IDF is a shining beacon and there is a bit of magic in that, surely in part because of the Friends of the IDF. The care and consideration in their programs is positively awesome and Alan has prioritized expanding the community during his tenure by increasing membership to include a large swatch of the Southwest. He was able, “with the help of good friend Marc Maister, to inspire [several] new chapters. Holding parlor meetings and galas [among the generous folks] of Orange County, [they encouraged] momentum, spreading out to Arizona…raising more money.” Arizona’s chapter has since moved into the arena of Los Angeles’ but Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado have joined with San Diego, increasing our regional presence. Grateful to those who came before him, Alan credits “the leadership in San Diego prior to me having done such an outstanding job of putting the FIDF on the map in San Diego, I felt compelled to ensure that it continues.” Everyone is gratefully impressed that he grew it as well.

The FIDF’s six core pillars are life-changing programs that sustain IDF soldiers, veterans, and their families while building a stronger tomorrow.

A quick visit to their website will reveal real success stories in Education, Financial Relief, Construction, Fallen and Wounded, Adopt a Brigade, and Lone Soldiers.

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 as well as facilities that provide hope, purposeful support for the soldiers who protect Israel and Jews worldwide. Today, FIDF has 24 chapters throughout the United States proudly supporting 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 and the soldiers of the IDF.

San Diego chapter’s website clearly shares their focus: hosting parlor meetings, women’s events, concerts with the IDF Choir, and Lone Soldier Fun Day. They are active supporters of IMPACT! students, currently sponsoring over 200 students, in addition to two brigades. Additionally, they helped to build several projects for the IDF’s famous 8200 Intelligence Unit, including a beautiful auditorium on Glilot Base for educational enrichment and ceremonies. They have also completed multiple renovation projects for leisure clubs and gyms.

Their annual galas often sell out and have raised close to $1M, with exciting themes ranging from IDF ingenuity to the IDF’s humanitarian effort. Each year, they host at least one mission to Israel, and some years have sent as many as four. Participants experience the Jewish State with unparalleled access to dignitaries and bases, deepening their connections to Israel and her soldiers. This year’s plans include several high caliber events as well as a community program. Especially exciting is their Holocaust to Independence mission from Poland to Israel which, despite the ongoing pandemic, is sold out with a huge delegation preparing to travel in April.

In 2016, they created the Lapidot FIDF women’s brigade to raise and increase awareness of and support female IDF soldiers. Lapidot means valor, power, or spirit in modern Hebrew; they could not think of a more fitting name for our group. Featuring the flame, their logo embodies the courage, bravery and dedication of the women who serve the State of Israel. To support IDF soldiers, Lapidots raise funds for projects on Israeli army bases and in their first few years have donated very generously.

As if in perfect harmony, the chapter’s new chair will be, for the first time, a woman and Tamara Klein is excited to step up. “Alan has set the bar high and I feel honored to follow in his footsteps. I have been part of the FIDF Board for many years and love what this organization is about, taking care of the IDF soldiers and providing them with constant support in a multitude of areas. It is very important that the IDF knows how much the Diaspora cares about them. Having been on two missions, to Israel and Poland, I was able to see first hand all the amazing things this organization does. It has been so rewarding to interact with the soldiers and build relationships with them. It is incredible to see [and get to know] how well the soldiers respond to all the support they receive.” Tamara has “always enjoyed being part of a charitable organization, contributing [her] time and energy to bettering the lives of others.”

And there are few doing a better job, as not-for-profit organizations go. FIDF boasts a 4-star rating, says Michael Thatcher, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, which verifies that it exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities. “Only 2% of the charities evaluated have received nine consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Friends of the Israel Defense Forces outperforms most other charities in America. Their exceptional designation sets it apart from peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”

Tamara hopes her enthusiasm, her Zionism and her “love for Israel and its soldiers will allow us to continue to make an impact and grow the support that we have established here in San Diego.”

You can donate and join them via their website at www.fidf.org/act-local/our-chapters/san-diego-chapter/.

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