Heroes to Heroes to bring U.S. veterans to Israel

Heroes to Heroes to bring U.S. veterans to Israel

Founder hopes servicemen will form a lasting bond

U.S. veterans join wounded Israeli soldiers brought to New York City by Chabad of the Eastside. Judy Schaffer, pictured at left, plans to bring U.S. veterans to Israel. courtesy chabad

Many American servicemen – especially veterans – are in awe of Israel’s military community, says Teaneck resident Judy Schaffer, president and founder of Heroes to Heroes. They are also impressed by the way that country treats its wounded soldiers.

“It surprised me,” said Schaffer, noting the depth of U.S. veterans’ enthusiasm for Israel.

Her group, based in Fort Lee, will be bringing 10 of these servicemen to Israel in September so they can see the country, and Israeli veterans, for themselves.

“One asked me if he’ll meet [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” she joked. But they all “seem to understand that we’re fighting the same fight against terrorism. There’s just something about Israel. They want to know what it’s like.”

Judy Schaffer wants to forge a bond between U.S. and Israeli military veterans. courtesy judy schaffer

Schaffer, whose father was a World War II veteran, said she grew up in a home where patriotism was key, as was a concern for Israel. Heroes to Heroes combines those two passions.

“I’ve always been concerned about Israel’s place in the world and the relationship between our two countries,” she said. “I wanted to do something for our veterans and their veterans, and help bridge a gap that should be connected. They can help one another.”

The idea for Heroes to Heroes took shape about two years ago, when Schaffer was asked by Cliff Nolan of Teamsters Joint Council No. 73 – working on behalf of the New York Fire Department – to help raise funds for a program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Regional manager/Northeast for Regional Reps Corp., which represents more than 1,000 radio stations in their dealings with advertisers, Schaffer was able to use her many contacts to spur donations to the center.

“I went down to Walter Reed to visit soldiers with a group from the New York Fire Department,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience.”

In addition to seeing patients with traumatic injuries, she spoke with many who told her they wanted more than anything to return to their units. Speaking later with some of their parents, she was told, “They don’t want to go through this alone.”

“It haunted me,” she said, “For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to do something.”

Later, on a plane ride to Israel to visit her son, who was studying there, she asked an Israeli sitting next to her what the country does for wounded veterans.

“He told me how supportive the country is and about Beit Halochem,” which cares for Israel’s disabled veterans. “I took notes,” she said, adding that she spent much of her time in Israel learning as much as she could about services offered to veterans.

“Beit Halochem provides everything for wounded veterans, all kinds of services and activities,” she said. “It would be phenomenal to have that here. Our veterans need it.”

The U.S. veterans going to Israel with Heroes to Heroes – in partnership with the America-Israel Friendship League – must have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and must be mobile, she said, “but they must also have gone through other programs but feel like they need more.”

“I haven’t had this much to look forward to in a really long time,” wrote one trip applicant. “[The upcoming trip] has ignited a piece of me that’s been missing for quite some time.”

In Israel, the group will be met by five Israeli veterans. The job of their American coach, said Schaffer, “is to make sure the teams bond together.”

The trip will include five components, from translating military experience into skills needed for civilian employment to exploration of holy sites – whether Christian or Jewish – “and the opportunity to experience religion and find spirituality where it all began.” U.S. veterans will also visit Israeli facilities for disabled veterans and learn about the challenges of living with terrorism.

When they come home, the U.S. veterans must commit to working together online with an Israeli counterpart for 12 months, “to keep the relationship going.” Heroes to Heroes will also sponsor quarterly meetings with speakers. In addition, trip participants will be asked to speak at different organizations, such as schools, talking about both their war experiences and their trip to Israel.

“Ideally, I’d like to see a Beit Halochem facility here,” said Schaffer. If the veterans want it, “we’ll find ways to make that happen.”

While the goal of her program is to help disabled veterans bridge the gap between their military experience and civilian life, Schaffer likened the venture to Birthright Israel.

“Israel is such an emotional place,” she said. “You breathe the air and feel something different. We can change their air – possibly give them spirituality they’re not getting. No other place can provide it like Israel.”

In September, Heroes to Heroes will sponsor a benefit golf outing at the Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn. For further information and to learn more about the organization, visit www.heroestoheroes.org.

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