Howard Gases, the New Jersey/Tri-State Director of Friends of the IDF, has a ready answer when people ask him why they should support his organization.
“I feel very strongly about it,” he said. “Without a strong IDF, we can’t have a strong Israel. I also question whether we could have a strong Jewish community here,” he added, noting that Israel’s fighting force “also cares about American Jews and Jewry around the world.” This, he said, is something to take seriously at a time when we see “an uptick in anti-Semitism.
“In the past,” he said, “we lived with more fear. Now we have the IDF as our protectors. If something happens here, we have Israel, and the IDF protects Israel.” He suggested that if people want to help those soldiers, working through his organization “is the best means of doing so. We talk to the IDF and hear what their needs are.”
Ms. Gases and Aliyah Azarvar, FIDF’s tri-state marketing coordinator, talked about their organization and the New Jersey chapter’s upcoming program, set for February 7. There, an Israel Defense Forces active-duty paramedic and her commander, whose life she saved, will discuss their story at a private home in Cresskill.
According to a statement from the FIDF’s New Jersey office, the program “will provide FIDF supporters with a first-hand look into the lives of two soldiers who risk their lives protecting the Jewish homeland. Staff Sgt. Hilla, who began her military service in 2016 and joined a special paramedics course, last year saved the life of Maj. Yehuda after he was hit in the chest by shrapnel and couldn’t breathe. Yehuda’s life-threatening injury occurred while both soldiers were serving along the Gaza border during a period of heightened tension and protests.” (IDF soldiers on active duty go by only their first names when they do promotional work.)
Soldiers, Mr. Gases said, “are the best spokespeople. They talk from the heart. All the stories are from modern-day heroes.” Ms. Azarvar added that while the February 7 program is meant to raise funds, it also will showcase “two incredible stories. We want both to raise money and to build lasting bonds between the American Jewish community and the Israeli community.”
According to its website, the FIDF is “a non-political, non-military organization that provides for [the] well-being of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), veterans, and family members…. FIDF is committed to providing these soldiers with love, support, and care to ease the burden they carry on behalf of the Jewish community worldwide.” The nonprofit organization, with 20 regional offices, was established by a group of Holocaust survivors in 1981.
On its site, the New Jersey office says that three lone soldiers met in 1970, when they were in the IDF. Reuniting after their return to the United States, “they decided they wanted to provide for other Lone Soldiers. That commitment was realized in 2004 when they founded the chapter…. Today we are approximately 25,000 strong.”
In addition to its commitment to lone soldiers, the New Jersey chapter supports the Legacy B’nai Mitzvah program, through which bar and bat mitzvah-age children support IDF soldiers with their tzedakah programs, and helps fund the Goodman Marketplace, centrally located at the IDF’s training center. According to the NJ FIDF website, the marketplace “allows the soldiers to take a break from their military activities, catch up with their friends, and enjoy a snack.” The chapter also holds annual galas to raise funds for its activities.
“We do a lot of wonderful things for lone soldiers,” Mr. Gases said, pointing to a recent event in Israel. Working with Nefesh b’Nefesh, FIDF organized a fair/forum for 1,600 lone soldiers “where they could come and take care of all their administrative needs.” In addition, each lone soldier is provided with one flight home during his or her term of service.
Mr. Gases also talk about the Impact program, which grants four-year academic scholarships to combat and combat support soldiers from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Donors get to meet the students they support, he said, and often develop close relationships with them. And, he added, “the program is changing the fabric of Israel because each recipient needs to devote 130 hours to community service.” The Impact office in Israel works with dozens of nonprofit organizations, providing opportunities for the grantees to work in a variety of fields, whether volunteering with Holocaust survivors or helping the underprivileged.
Mr. Gases also talked about the FIDF’s Dignity program, which provides soldiers in need and their families with such essential items as furniture, electrical appliances, and other necessities. The FIDF provides monetary assistance in cases of special needs through special grants, and it distributes holiday gift vouchers twice a year.
The FIDF also sponsors missions to Poland and Israel. “Our Young Leadership missions to Israel are unlike any other,” Mr. Gases said. “Participants spend 90 percent of their time on army bases and get to see the country through the eyes of the IDF.”
The New Jersey FIDF has raised about $6 million, according to Mr. Gases. “People want to know where their money goes,” he said, adding that in the case of FIDF, “their money is well used.” He cited the findings, noted on the group’s website, that “FIDF has consistently received the highest ratings for accountability and transparency from two of the leading independent charity evaluators: Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. FIDF received the highest 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for the 8th year in a row now—a feat accomplished by only 3 percent of charities in America, and Charity Watch has bestowed FIDF with their ‘Top-Rated’ seal.”
For more information about the February 7 program, email Howard.Gases@fidf.org or call (646) 274-9650.