Devorah Talia Gordon.
While schmoozing with Tal Peleg, Adi Meiri and Orian Avigdori at the welcome dinner for the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) LEGACY program, it’s hard to imagine that each of these upbeat Israeli girls have suffered the tragedy of losing a brother in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). “My brother was sent on a mission and had an accident in an SUV,” said 12 year old Adi Meiri. Tal Peleg, also12, recounted how her twenty-year-old brother was killed in a terrorist attack while off-duty.
“For most of the kids some time has passed,” explained IDF Commander Liron Shaul, one of the two commanders in charge of the group, “their grief is not so fresh.” Even so, behind each of the twenty-one smiling faces, there is a tragic story of loss. All the children, who are in their bar- or bat-mitzvah year, are children or siblings of fallen IDF soldiers, as are the four counsellors accompanying them.
Aside from meeting local FIDF supporters and touring LA, the children enjoyed a typical American recreation camp experience, spending eleven days at Kibbutz Bob Waldorf (owned by the Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters) on the Max Straus Campus in Glendale. There they participated in archery, swimming, arts & crafts, and ropes’ course, as well as singing, Israeli dancing and Torah learning.
The welcome dinner at the new O’WOKS restaurant on July 12 was hosted by longtime FIDF Western Region supporters Eli and Nava Marmur. Addressing the full-house of donors, campers and counselors, Mr. Marmur expressed his appreciation for those defending the state of Israel. “We are very, very fortunate that we have a strong state, because we all know what happened when we didn’t….Thanks to their sacrifice, Israel is safe, secure and strong. Supporting the LEGACY program is the least we can do to show them how much we love them, care for them, and stand by them.” Mr. Marmur proceeded to present each camper with a personalized, miniature Oscar award.
The LEGACY program, conceived in 2006, has the goal of supporting the family members of fallen IDF soldiers through a variety of activities, financial support, and life-cycle celebrations. The program brings about 120 bar/bat mitzvah age-children to the U.S. each year for similar trips; another group is slated to arrive in LA on August 11, with many of those children having lost a sibling in Operation Protective Edge last summer.
Miri Nash, emcee of the evening and executive director of the FIDF Western Region, can relate to such tragedy, having lost many family members in the Holocaust, then in Israel. “I’m told I wear my heart on my sleeve,” said Mrs. Nash, a second-gen survivor, whose family originates from Warsaw. “In my office [at the Federation Building] you’ll see a big poster of my 19-year-old cousin Yigal, a tank commander and medic, who was killed in the Yom Kippur War. Then there’s a large photo of another cousin, Edi, a soldier who was killed at age 25. Whatever Hitler didn’t finish, whatever was left of my family, they were killed in Israel. I felt that I wanted to make a difference, to do something.”
The Western Region of the FIDF was thus created, by Western Region Founder and Chairman Leo David and Miri Nash (as the FIDF professional), following the founding of FIDF in New York by 200 Holocaust survivors. The non-profit now has fifteen regional offices throughout the US and Panama, with a mission to provide educational, social, cultural and recreational programs for the members of the IDF and their families.
Back at home, Commanders Scarlet Cohen and Liron Shaul, both part of the IDF’s Department of Wounded and Casualties, support the families who have suffered losses. “We take care of the families, from the hour they get the news, we are there. We help with everything,” said Commander Cohen. In fact, Commander Cohen was already acquainted with several of the kids on the trip from her work with their families in Israel.
Before the trip to LA, Cohen and Shaul, as well as the counsellors, met all the children who were chosen for the LEGACY program. The children spent time together as well, and joined a WhatsApp group to facilitate pre-trip bonding.
From the grinning faces and camaraderie present at the welcome dinner, it’s obvious the bonding has been successful; perhaps initially from a shared sorrow, but now through a shared joy.