Though there is an annual Long Island Friends of the IDF gala on the North Shore, residents of the Five Towns and elsewhere on the South Shore wanted to hold an event closer to home. “The South Shore and Five Towns people said [the North Shore] is not our community and we have passionate, engaged, philanthropic people,” said Elissa Kohel, executive director of FIDF’s tristate region.
Kohel said that the local event began coming together a year and a half ago. Lawrence resident Jay Spector, who grew up in Woodmere, was one of those who hosted a meeting at his house. “It’s for the soldiers, and that’s why it transcends all political lines,” Spector said. “Fighting for Jews is not just limited to the borders of Israel.” He added that nearly 400 people were scheduled to attend the event, and that almost $300,000 had been raised. Proceeds will benefit the IDF’s Nahal Haredi battalion and FIDF programs.
“People say that the IDF is the melting pot of Israeli society, with all different types of people, and your politics doesn’t matter — you decided to serve,” Kohel said.
That melting pot includes four other lone soldiers — two current and two former lone soldiers — who were also scheduled to attend the event. Lt. Nimrod Arad was born in Kenya, emigrated to Israel as a youngster and has served since March 2008 in the IDF’s field intelligence corps. “They are doing a mitzvah,” Arad said of the FIDF, using the Hebrew word for a worthy deed. “I cherish everything they do.”
Pvt. Fanny Sommer, a native of Switzerland, enlisted in the IDF last October and serves as a spokeswoman in the new media branch of the army. Sommer moved to Israel four years ago and lived there for two years while she attending university. She returned to Switzerland, but felt something was missing from her life. “It’s a way of giving back for all the help that Israel gives immigrants,” she said.
One of the projects supported by the fundraiser is the Impact program, which aids financially strapped former IDF soldiers and pays their university tuition. Students receive $16,000 over an average of four years. They repay the debt by doing community service.