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Dr. Robert and Barbara Cohen of Englewood will sponsor two lone soldiers through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Shahar Azran

Dr. Robert and Barbara Cohen of Englewood met plenty of top-brass VIPs on their recent visit to Israel with the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces National Leadership Mission – President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz among them.

But what stands out in Dr. Cohen’s mind are the regular soldiers in uniform.

“I was so impressed by the goodness of the individuals I met, the young soldiers and their commanding officers,” Dr. Cohen, an obstetrician/gynecologist, said. “These young people, right out of high school, are giving up two or three years of their lives for Israel. And they all, to the man or woman, told us they consider it an honor to preserve and protect Israel for the Jewish people.”

The Cohens were so impressed, in fact, that they readily agreed to sponsor two needy lone soldiers – one male and one female – for four years as they transition from the military to higher education.

Some 6,000 Israeli soldiers are classified as “lone” because they have no local family support. Of those, about 2,800 are from abroad. Much of FIDF’s focus is on meeting the needs of lone soldiers. The not-for-profit organization, established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors, provides and supports educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for IDF soldiers and raises funds through 15 regional offices throughout the United States and Panama.

The national FIDF Mission, which took place November 14 to 21, included briefings by senior military officers, meetings with state leaders, and tours of strategic IDF bases to get a behind-the-scenes look into the Israeli military.

The delegates toured an Iron Dome battery in the South that helped shield Israelis from thousands of rocket attacks during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, and heard an assessment of the current security situation from the commander of the Gaza Division.

They talked with soldiers who served in Operation Protective Edge, visited the Hatzerim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert to meet F-15 and F-16 pilots, and learned about the activities of elite units such as the Givati Brigade and the “Iron Trails” Armored Brigade.

“Every day was a highlight, a brilliant new experience,” Dr. Cohen said. “It was the best trip I ever took anywhere.”

Though the Cohens have contributed to FIDF in the past, this was their first mission with the organization. Dr. Cohen said he and his wife were excited to tour the military’s planned 263-acre, $2.3 million training, research, and housing complex in the Negev, designed to meet all the needs of soldiers and their families in one village-type setting, unknown in Israel until now. He learned that the project may be delayed because of budgetary constraints following the war, but he hoped that it would go through in the near future.

According to the FIDF, its leadership missions to Israel are “opportunities to reinforce the vital bond between the communities in the United States, the soldiers of the IDF, and the State of Israel.”

“This National Leadership Mission allowed our FIDF supporters to forge even deeper bonds with the brave men and women of the IDF, who put their lives on the line every day to defend the Jewish State and the Jewish people,” FIDF National Chairman Nily Falic said. “We are grateful for this incredible opportunity to learn more about how we can support the well- being of its soldiers. While they look after Israel, it is incumbent upon us to look after them.”

Speaking to the group shortly after the November 18 terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, Lt. Gen. Gantz said: “These cruel and inhumane events provided a reminder that the situation can change from moment to moment and that we have to continue being vigilant, remaining in a state of constant readiness, to do whatever it takes to protect the security of our people.

“The State of Israel knows that even after 66 years of independence, the IDF still needs to continue defending Israel and the diaspora.”