More than 8,000 women, men, and children receive emotional, financial, educational, and social support from the Israel Defense Forces Widows and Orphans Organization. The IDFWO is the only charity the State of Israel recognizes to work with the bereaved spouses and children of fallen heroes of the IDF and Israel’s security forces.
The IDFWO was founded in 1991. It did not yet exist when Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft endured the excruciating experience of watching her young husband, Yigal Goren, succumb to burns he suffered in battle in the Six-Day War in June 1967.
As she describes in her 2017 book, “War Widow: How The Six Day War Changed My Life,” she miscarried as a result of that trauma and so lost the hope of perpetuating Yigal’s memory through what would have been his only child.
On April 21, just after Israel’s Memorial Day, Dr. Bakman-Flamhaft will speak at Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron on behalf of the IDFWO. (See box.)
Lacking any organizational support, she tried on her own to fight a government decision in 1968 to end survivor benefits for childless war widows. That, she learned, was a tactic intended to give these women a nudge toward finding new husbands and getting on with their lives. “I thought it was arbitrary and unjust,” she said. “To my astonishment and disappointment, though we were 128 childless war widows and I tried to recruit them one by one to fight this decision, nobody wanted to speak against the government after the Six-Day War victory.
“So I ran the campaign myself — and made a lot of noise.”
Eventually that law was changed, but another law, passed in 1950, cut off war widows’ benefits once they remarried. As a result of advocacy work by IDFWO, that law was reversed in 2011. Through that effort, Dr. Bakman-Flamhaft learned about the organization and joined it as a member, even though now she lives in the United States and therefore she cannot benefit directly from its services in Israel.
She had left Israel in 1969 for what was supposed to be a two-year job for the Israel Defense Ministry, hoping some distance would help her heal. But she never moved back.
“I married an American man in 1971, believing I could schlep him to live in Israel, but he’s a criminal attorney and didn’t get farther than opening an aliyah file at the Jewish Agency,” she said. She earned a doctorate in political science from CUNY and she has taught at Queens College since 1985. Now a mother and grandmother, she lives in New York City.
In 1995, Dr. Bakman-Flamhaft won a Fulbright scholarship and went to Israel to research her 1996 book, “Israel on the Road to Peace: Accepting the Unacceptable.”
She dedicated about seven years to writing her most recent autobiographical book, which she self-published.
“When a friend, to whom I was lamenting about the difficulties publishing my book in the traditional route, asked me why is it so important for me to publish my work, I answered, ‘Because I have an important story to tell,’” she said. “That is why I wrote my book. Not to be pitied or admired but to inspire men and women who faced life’s most difficult challenges. To give voice to the women who influenced my life … and to young widows who face double standards in the societies in which they live.”
Dr. Bakman-Flamhaft says she was honored to be asked to speak on behalf of IDFWO at Congregation Beth Aaron on Shabbat Chayal (“chayal” is the Hebrew word for “soldier”), which is marked by several area synagogues at this time of year in different ways.
Beth Aaron’s Shabbat Chayal is dedicated in memory of Ilan Tokayer. Mr. Tokayer was a Teaneck native who became a lone soldier in the IDF; later, he went to the University of California at Davis to work on a master’s degree, and died there, in March 2011, at 25.
“Eighty-five percent of the monies raised for this year’s Shabbat Chayal Kiddush will be used to support IDFWO activities,” Michael (Mordechai) Ungar, a member of Beth Aaron’s Shabbat Chayal committee, said. “The remaining 15 percent will be used in support of the summer youth program of Beit Yatir, our sister city in Israel.”
Tami Shelach, IDFWO’s chairwoman, said that the donation will be funneled through the nonprofit organization Friends of the IDF and will go toward the many programs IDFWO runs year round.
“We provide a lifelong emotional support network,” Dr. Shelach said. “For orphans, we’re with them through every milestone such as bar/bat mitzvah, starting university, and getting married.
“Our work is so important because research shows the life-altering effects of bereavement on spouses and children if immediate intervention and ongoing support is not available.”
What: Ziva Bakman-Flamhaft, author of “War Widow: How the Six Day War Changed My Life,” speaking on behalf of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization
When: Saturday, April 21, 6:20 p.m.
Where: Congregation Beth Aaron, 950 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck
To make a donation: http://www.bethaaron.org/event/chayal18
For more information: www.idfwo.org/eng