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Monday, December 09, 2019

FIDF, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, will host its 15th annual New Jersey tribute dinner on Monday, December 2, at The Venetian in Garfield. Over 500 people are expected to attend the event, which will feature Israeli TV and film actress Rona-Lee Shim’on, costar of the highly acclaimed Netflix series “Fauda.” With “The Night of Heroes” as its theme, the dinner will pay tribute to Israel’s brave men and women in uniform.

“Our annual dinner will be a wonderful opportunity to meet active-duty soldiers of different backgrounds, all with the same goal of protecting Israel,” said FIDF New Jersey Director Howard Gases. “Our supporters from the community will have the chance to hear from Rona-Lee Shim’on and thank the brave soldiers who defend Israel and directly benefit from FIDF’s important well-being and educational programs.”

According to Gases, FIDF is the “only organization that has an ongoing official relationship with the IDF. We take our direction and instructions directly from the IDF, in terms of providing what the soldiers need.”

In a telephone interview with The Jewish Link, Shim’on commented, “I got involved with FIDF because of Fauda. The people are so generous and kind, and our connection happened so naturally.
I love what they do; it is so important.”

FIDF stands on six core pillars, each helping to sustain IDF soldiers, veterans and their families, while ensuring the strength of the IDF for the future. These pillars include education, financial relief, construction, fallen and wounded, adopt-a-brigade and lone soldiers.

Most people know that FIDF works with lone soldiers to make their transition to life in Israel, away from home, a little easier. Gases elaborated, “We provide, among other things, the flights. The soldiers are entitled, once per service, to visit their parents and we handle all the flight details. We managed over 1,000 flights for soldiers in 2018.” FIDF also assists with housing, Shabbat meals, holiday gift packages, social gatherings and more, ensuring these lone soldiers know they are not alone.

Gases continued by describing additional services that FIDF provides. “Over 8,000 soldiers needed financial support last year. We worked to provide it through our many programs. After their active duty, the soldiers often cannot afford university tuition. We provide assistance through donations and scholarship programs.”

FIDF’s education assistance goes beyond the financial. Its education programs help ensure a successful transition from high school to higher education, or from army service directly to the job market. From trips to explore and learn about the country, to assistance completing high school, to courses focusing on Jewish values and identity, to Holocaust education, to help with their adjustment to civilian life at the completion of their army service, FIDF is there for Israel’s soldiers every step of the way.

FIDF also offers services for young people who struggle with addiction, emotional problems or low self-esteem as they prepare for their army service. It provides essential items such as furniture, appliances and other necessities to soldiers and their families; additionally, for those soldiers with severe financial difficulties, there are special grants available, and holiday gift vouchers distributed twice yearly.

Gases added, “Each year we bring a group of bar and bat mitzvah children to the U.S. These kids all lost a family member during their IDF service. The kids spend a week in a U.S. sleepaway camp and Shabbat in a U.S. Jewish community. It is a wonderful experience for them.”

There are also bereavement services offered to families who have lost loved ones, and assistance given to both soldiers and veterans with their physical and psychological wounds, ensuring they receive the proper rehabilitation services and support. Special prosthetics are provided to injured IDF veterans for athletic activities, and they are given opportunities to use their new prosthetics in events where they can bond with others in similar situations, creating a support network that allows veterans to learn to live their lives without limitations.

Gases made a point to state that FIDF is proud of its continued four-star rating on Charity Navigator, which is the highest rating given by the charity assessment organization. That rating shows potential contributors that FIDF values transparency and accountability in terms of how it allocates its funds.

Gases noted that there will be a delegation of visiting IDF soldiers at the dinner speaking about their experiences and how FIDF has helped them. He added that any donations to FIDF go directly to assisting these, and other, IDF soldiers and veterans.

“For those who cannot attend the dinner,” Gases continued, “there are other ways to get involved. Not just financial contributions.”

Shim’on concluded, “FIDF connects Jews in the US to Jews in Israel. They help the soldiers; it is so important, heartfelt and heartwarming to see. I am so proud to be a part of it.”

The FIDF annual tribute dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. with dinner and cocktails, and the program and dessert will be at 7:45 p.m. The deadline to register is November 20. All funds raised will go toward FIDF educational and well-being programs for IDF soldiers.

The Venetian is located at 546 River Drive in Garfield.

For more information on the dinner or to support FIDF, visit https://www.fidf.org/events/15th-annual-fidf-tribute-dinner or www.fidf.org/njdinner2019.

By Jill Kirsch