After a little over a month, I finally laid down my broom and graduated from basic training. The way the army marks the end of this swirly month is with our swearing-in ceremony. My plugah (company) and I stood in a blob formation while the company commander read a few sentences for us to repeat. Then, one by one, we were called up to hold a tanakh (bible) and our gun, and swear to uphold our duties to the IDF.
The ceremony itself wasn't anything special — the army has this funny way of throwing a bunch of random things together and expecting you to take it seriously just because it's the army. This is the only explanation for the flashing light sticks scattered stunningly on the floor, the tree branches arranged in the shape of a Jewish star, or the old, cheesy music playing in the background. It all seemed very contrived to me, and as I stood at attention and watched my friends get called forward, I snickered to myself at the obvious symbolism that the commanders were forcing upon the occasion. And then my name was called.
Photos by Jared Bernstein Photography, courtesy of Nefesh B'Nefesh
About 190 "Lone Soldiers" — immigrants who have come to Israel without their families to serve in the Israeli army, finished a special Hebrew instruction course run by the IDF this week.
The soldiers, about 100 of whom are headed to combat units, recently made Aliyah from 25 countries from around the world. The graduation ceremony took place on the Michve Alon base in northern Israel, and was attended by Major General Orna Barbivay, who heads the Personnel Directorate of the IDF. The Lone Soldiers were among 500 IDF soldiers finishing the course. The Hebrew Course in Michve Alon is required for all immigrant soldiers and varies from two weeks to three months in length depending on the soldier's Hebrew proficiency.
I met Barak Avraham, known as Malaku in his native Amharic, during his 2-week tour of the United States on behalf of AMIT, which supports a network of 108 schools and programs in 29 cities in Israel. Avraham's personal story is a marvelous case study of how AMIT schools turn around individual lives and whole towns. His trek began at age 9 when he walked, with his mother and four siblings, for three weeks from their village of Abu Zava to the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. Sleeping outdoors at night, they were at the peril of anti-Semites, who recognized them as Jews and strangers. (His non-Jewish father, already divorced, stayed at home.)
Former kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit visited the Nefesh B'Nefesh offices in Jerusalem yesterday to meet with 50 Lone Soldier Olim from across the world. In an informal gathering, Gilad expressed his support and admiration for these brave young men and women who hail from countries including the USA, Canada, Australia, Costa Rica, Norway, Mexico, South Africa, France, Argentina, Brazil and Spain and are serving in various units such as Infantry, Intelligence, Paratroopers and Communications among others. "I admire each one of you for what you are doing for our country. Your decision to leave your families and friends and make Aliyah on your own and join the army is truly courageous and admirable. Although you are far from your own families, you are not alone — we are all one family and are here to support you and make you feel most welcome as Israeli citizens," he said.
There's nothing like an eyewitness to convey the visceral and emotional impact of overseas news. So, I'd looked forward to the parlor meeting held at a private residence on the Main Line on Tuesday. Their son, Akiva (a pseudonym to protect his identity), was the featured speaker and he showed computer images of his work with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Their goal for the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) was to outfit his unit, 80-member strong, with fleece jackets, Camelback water bottles, and Leatherman tools.
This afternoon, the IDF dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip, warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives and infrastructure.
The first leaflet:
To the residents of Sheikh Ajlin, Tel Al-Hwa, Rimal South, Zeitoun, Sjaiya, Turkeman and Sajiya Jadida: For your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move towards the central Gaza city, via Al-Khara, Jma'at Al Dul Al Arabia, Al Aqsa Al Qudsiya, Um Alaimoun, Salah A-din, Al-Maqsurra, Hal's Mjdad. In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the areas of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south.
The second leaflet:
To the residents of of the outskirts of Shati, Al-Atatra, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun: for your safety, you are required to evacuate your residences immediately and move towards central Gaza city via Al-Falujah, Al-Udda and Salah A-din. In the central Gaza city, you are required to stay between the roads of Salah A-din from the west, Amar Al-Muchtar from the north, Al-Nasser from the east and Al-Quds St. from the south.
A short while ago, the Hamas interior ministry spokesman was interviewed on Al-Quds Radio in Gaza and urged his listeners to ignore the IDF warnings. IDF intelligence was listening to the broadcast and relayed the following transcript:
Question: As the bombings go on, I want to address a specific issue: People have been receiving text messages urging them to evacuate their houses...
Hamas Interior Ministry Spokesperson: This is all part of the psychological warfare held by the Zionist enemy... So by using this way of communication, our public radio, I address all our Palestinian brothers by saying: Please do not listen to the orders noted on these text messages, their only purpose is spreading fear and panic within our people.
As you may know, I served in a combat unit of the Israeli Defense Forces — the Nahal Infantry Brigade's 50th Battalion. This week, my friends and comrades were pulled out of the West Bank and moved to the border with the Gaza Strip in preparation for a possible ground invasion. Now that I am out of uniform, I better understand how difficult it can be on the outside but I refuse to feel helpless. There are still many ways we can help those in harm's way.
I was in contact today with the head of Yashar LaChayal, a charitable organization that provides support to IDF soldiers. Yahsar LaChayal means "Straight to the Soldier". My question was very simple and very blunt: What do you need and what will it cost? I received this reply:
Many units are on the border waiting. I made three trips today alone from suppliers to units. They need neck warmers, gloves, underwear, hats, and maybe thermals if weather gets colder, toiletries, etc. Most soldiers were on base for about 20 days and were expecting to go home for Shabbat. Pretty tense situation.
I am personally trying to raise $25,000 for my unit — Nahal 50. This money will help keep my friends warm as they continue their preparations. Please do not think that these soldiers will be facing a mild winter. Having lived through Philadelphia and Boston winters, I can honestly say that the coldest I have ever been (and probably ever will be) was during the winter on the border with Gaza.
PHILADELPHIA, PA. - In the last week alone, Hamas, a terrorist organization, has launched 150 rockets at Israel's south. Currently, 15% of Israel's population is currently under a terrorist attack.
Israel cannot tolerate the escalation of rocket fire aimed at its citizens.
To impair the terrorist infrastructure, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) responded with targeted strikes against those responsible.
The Israel Air Force (IAF) seriously impacted Hamas's long-range missile capabilities and underground weapons storage facilities. The IAF has acted restrained and surgical in its response to the Hamas missile escalations, and has not targeted the long-range missiles stored in mosques, schools, and hospitals. Hamas, conversely, is deliberately firing at Israeli civilian population centers, including schools, hospitals and houses of worship.
FIDF supporters from the Ohio Region on the FIDF National Mission to Israel, standing next to one of the airplanes that participated in the attack of the Iraqi nuclear base in the 80's. Photo credit Einav Rimon
TEL AVIV- November 11, 2012 - Over 50 prominent Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) lay leaders and supporters from the United States embarked on a unique seven-day journey to Israel as part of the FIDF National Mission to Israel to show their appreciation and support for Israel's soldiers. The delegation arrived in Tel Aviv last Sunday, November 4th, 2012.
The FIDF mission, which was primarily aimed at acquainting participants with the IDF and its brave men and women in uniform, provided participants with the opportunity to spend time with IDF soldiers on various military bases across Israel. The group met with soldiers from several elite IDF bases, including the Machva Alon Educational base and the famous Nevatim Air Force base, where they met F-16 pilots. Mission participants were also given a special tour of the Gaza Border Region.
The group met with several top-level government and IDF officials, including the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, at his official Briefing Room, and Lt. Gen. (Res.) Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, Israel's Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs, and the IDF's 17th Chief of the General Staff.
At the age of 17, boys in Israel receive their first draft notice. A fly on the wall can hear them discussing animatedly, with their friends, the units to which they hope they will be accepted. There are units whose names conjure up extra "prestige" — like the Shayetet (Israel's Navy Seals), Duvdevan or Maglan.
But the most coveted assignment, for young men of sharpest wit and strongest body, is Sayeret Matkal — the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit. It is an elite special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces, a commando unit that carries out the most dangerous and courageous operations, both in Israel and beyond its borders. The Entebbe rescue, in which commander Yoni Netanyahu was killed, was carried out by Sayeret Matkal. Even to be invited to what is called the "gibush" — the first intense level of screening — for Matkal, as it is called colloquially, is a badge of honor, and only a select few make it past that initial stage.
Former President of the World Jewish Congress Edgar M. Bronfman wrote an op-ed in Haaretz saying that President Barack Obama has led an incredible effort to strengthen the U.S.- Israel relationship. According to Bronfman, Obama's support has made the Jewish State of Israel safer and more secure than in the past.
President Obama has led a resurgence of joint military cooperation between Israel and the United States. In fact, following President Obama's directive, the United States Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces have increased their strategic collaboration on defense technology, deployment, tactics, and intelligence to levels never before experienced.
Whether it is joint military exercises to stave off threats from terrorist and rogue regimes, or advancement and deployment of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, President Obama has led a breakthrough in a mutually beneficial partnership with Israel.
Nevertheless, despite the clear facts and substantial evidence, political partisans and opponents of the president continue a coordinated campaign to sow seeds of doubt about President Obama's support for Israel. The effort is not new. It began in 2008 when people stressed his middle name and used it as a weapon. From there, they began to call then-Senator Obama a Muslim. With the Muslim myth debunked, these same critics moved on and began questioning the president's place of birth.
Now, they are claiming that President Obama cannot be trusted to keep Israel safe. Despite all evidence to the contrary, these political partisans believe the American people-and particularly the Jewish community-are uninformed and that we cannot tell the difference between rhetoric and reality.
The reality is that when confronted with rhetorical attacks and efforts to sow doubts about his support for Israel, President Obama could have simply adopted the swagger and bravado of his predecessor. It would have been easy for President Obama to go on a speaking tour pandering to the Jewish community and those in America who love Israel. But that is not his style. President Obama is a thoughtful, decisive and pragmatic leader. He values substantive solutions over political gamesmanship. Forgoing the bluster and bravado of others, President Obama continues his practical and deliberate support for the State of Israel.
I have had the great privilege to work with successive U.S. Presidents over the past half-century on countless issues. On matters relating to Israel, one comment now stands out in my mind more than any other. While sitting in the Oval Office not long ago, President Obama looked me in the eye and said, 'My commitment to Israel's security is bone-deep.' It is reflected in his actions; it comes from a passion to secure the Jewish State, and it traces through his roots.
President Obama is a man who has taken those words and honored them with action. As a result, the State of Israel is more secure and I will be proud to vote for him this November.
Have you ever wondered what people talk about in a bomb shelter during a war? I found out in 1973. The Yom Kippur War was raging around me. My father was away, fighting on the Syrian front. In the middle of the night, the air raid sirens were sounded. My mother, brother, and I stumbled down the stairs to the bomb shelter of our building. Our neighbors were having a tempestuous discussion about the stupidity of the design of our air raid retreat. One neighbor had the last word when he commented, "even if we survive a direct hit, our building's propane tank is here with us. It will explode, killing us instantly!" I sat with them, watching over my infant brother and thinking about my dad. We had no way to communicate with him. I also thought about another neighbor who was on the front, a fighter pilot. The next day we got the terrible news: our fighter pilot had been shot down. He was killed in action. His father, Albert, owned the grocery store on our street. I adored Albert! One month later, his grocery store was locked, and a notice had been glued to the door. Albert had died. "Of a broken heart," I was told. "Once his son died, he had nothing to live for anymore." At that moment, my five-year-old heart shattered as well. I never forgot Albert or his brave son. A few months later the Yom Kippur War ended, and my family was sent to Venezuela.
Last week, a noted "anti-Israel warrior" perpetuated a myth regarding Israel's strategic relationship with Azerbaijan. Over the weekend, Israel's Ynet reported that the White House flatly denied any role in the story and threatened to prosecute the source:
A top White House official denied Saturday that the US Administration was responsible for leaking information, alleging that Israel has secured access to airfields in Azerbaijan ahead of a possible strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, to the press....
The sources said that the White House had 'no interest' in leaks of this kind, adding that the administration would 'gladly prosecute' the people behind it — if they knew who they were....
Jerusalem and Washington, he added, are making 'tremendous efforts' on Iran and are working more closely than ever.
Israeli military analysts also debunked the substance of the story. According to The Times of Israel:
Israeli military and intelligence analysts on Sunday categorically dismissed the notion that Israel is considering using airbases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities....
... Israeli analysts lined up Sunday to deride the idea as everything illogical, baseless, and impossible.
'It doesn't make any sense,' said Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former officer in the research division of the IDF's Military Intelligence branch. 'Azerbaijan has no interest in picking a fight with its neighbor Iran,' he added. 'It's a relatively new country and I don't see how it could possibly be in their interest to grant any assistance to Israel in an attack on Iran.'
Kam added: 'If the Azeri were really to help Israel carry out attack on Iran, they would pick a huge fight with Iran, and if Iran decided to strike Azerbaijan, nobody would come to their help. In my eyes this scenario seems absolutely impossible.'...
Unfortunately, lamented Ehud Yaari, Channel 2's chief political analyst and Times of Israel columnist, nobody made the effort to check whether the theories put forward by Perry's article held water.
'No one seems to have raised the real questions before rushing to publish or quote the Perry-tale,' Yaari wrote on Sunday in The Times of Israel. 'Elementary, Mr. Perry: How would the Israeli Air Force reach those airbases in Azerbaijan? Are the Israelis going to get a permit from Mr. Erdogan to fly over Turkey on their way to hit Iran? Does it make any sense? Or, alternatively, does Perry want us to believe that the Israelis will choose to bypass Turkey on their secret mission via the longer route over Greece and Bulgaria, thus becoming fully exposed to Russian radar in the Black Sea? Take a look at the map, Mr. Perry — there is no other way for the Israelis to get to Azerbaijan!'
Yaari also dismissed the idea that Israeli jets could use Azeri airfields on their way back to Israel after a strike. 'How can Azerbaijan possibly afford to cooperate in an attack on Iran when it depends on Iran entirely for maintaining control over that significant part of this country, the Nakhichevan region, an exclave and autonomous republic of Azerbaijan that is totally separated from the main Azeri territory by its archenemy, Armenia?'
Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the IDF's strategic planning division, agrees that the theory put forward by Perry's article doesn't seem logical.
'This is utterly baseless. Azerbaijan is a small country that borders on Iran. It just doesn't make sense they would help Israel attack them. It would be suicidal,' Brom told The Times of Israel.
Brom added: 'It is known that Mark Perry is not a huge fan of Israel. What probably happened is that he took a kernel of truth — that Israel and Azerbaijan have good bilateral cooperation, just like Israel has many other strategic alliances in the world, for example with India — and turned it into something that is it not, which is military cooperation on a strike on Iran.'
In his full piece picking apart the story, Yaari noted:
The truth is that Perry's piece did not deserve the attention. The veteran anti-Israel warrior has simply taken advantage of the negligent naivety of Foreign Policy's editors in order to plant one more of his cloak-and-dagger patchwork stories aimed at undermining the state he intensely detests....
The fact that Azerbaijan maintains close relations with Israel — including big arms and oil deals — does not justify flights of fantasy. Serious debate requires down-to-earth discussion based on facts and then a grain of common sense. The discourse about the way to tackle Iran's nuclear challenge is far too fateful to allow it to be hijacked by the likes of 'author and historian' Mark Perry.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey visited Israel to conduct high level meetings regarding the Iranian threat. The New York Times reported on Dempsey's trip:
The meetings were closed and their contents were not revealed. But General Dempsey, on his first visit to Israel as military chief, was quoted in brief remarks released by the office of Israel's defense minister as saying, 'We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we'll all be.'...
General Dempsey began his visit here with an intimate dinner on Thursday evening at a restaurant in Jaffa with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief of staff. The men were joined by their wives. Early Friday, General Dempsey was greeted at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv with an honor guard and held meetings with General Gantz and other senior commanders.
The top generals 'discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges,' Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.
Other meetings were held with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Israel's president, Shimon Peres. General Dempsey also visited Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, where he wrote in the visitors' book, 'We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again.' He departed Israel before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday.
Each of the meetings 'reinforced the deep and special relationship shared by Israel and the U.S.,' Colonel Lapan said, and 'served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.'...
Mr. Peres told General Dempsey on Friday that 'Even today in a very complicated situation we can find a common ground. We have profound trust in your democratic system and your armed forces.' General Dempsey assured Mr. Peres that 'America is your partner and we are honored to have you as a partner in that regard.'
Last week, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces began a new tradition here in Philadelphia with their first annual Gala. Everyone enjoyed the music under the direction of Udi Bar as well as the drinks and fine food.
However, the real reason everyone came out was to show their support for the soldiers of the IDF. Their jobs is to look after Israel, and it is the job for the Friends of the IDF to look after them.
Keynote speaker former Governor Ed Rendell explained that he and his brother Robert were not raised in a religious home, but his father told them to remember that they are Jews, to remember how Jews have been treated over the years, and to support Jewish causes like FIDF whenever they could.
Although Rendell has had many titles: Governor of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mayor of Philadelphia and Philadelphia District Attorney, he said the title of which he is most proud is that of 2nd Lieutenant from his service in the reserve from 1968 to 1974.
The Friends of the IDF supports Israeli soldiers in many ways:
The IMPACT! program grants full scholarships to soldiers who come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background and seek a higher education. Each scholarship recipient is required to complete 130 hours of community service annually. IMPACT! Student Maru Gete, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant, came to tell us how the FIDF allowed him to realize his dream of going to medical school.
The Legacy Program supports thousands of widows, orphans and other family members who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved-one fallen during military service. Galit Cochva was on hand to speak courageous of her husband Ron who died when his helicopter crashed in Lebanon.
The Lone Soldier Program supports the 2,800 determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to travel to Israel, become proud IDF soldiers and make Israel their home. Friends of the IDF is a family to Lone Soldiers who have no family of their own in Israel.
Wynnewood native Shoval Dorani returned to Philadlephia to tell us about her life as a lone soldier and the support she received from the Friends of the IDF.
Here is what she had to say:
Good evening. My name is Shoval Dorani and for the past year I have been serving as a proud lone soldier in Oketz, the independent canine special forces unit of the Israel defense force.
I was born in North Miami Beach, Florida and raised in beautiful Wynnewood, Pennsylvania along with my brother Omri and my sister Liat. I had the privilege of receiving a Jewish Day School education and was raised in a home where the state of Israel was constantly in our hearts and in our minds. My father was born in Israel and my mother has always considered Israel her second home, so we traveled to Israel often. Each time I stepped onto Israel soil, I felt a sense of belonging. I was home.
The remainder of Shoval's remarks follow the jump.
There is no dilemma in freeing one captive at the possible future cost of endangering the lives of others, even by exchanging his freedom for the freedom of convicted murderers.
The moral imperative to choose life deals with fact, not supposition. We are commanded to save a life, not to worry about the possible consequences that releasing a number of murderers may or may not have on other lives.
We are called upon to deal with certainty: that Gilad Shalit lives and his life in continued captivity is in danger.
Second Lieutenant Shalem Gin: "I hope more officers from the community will follow"
-- Jake Sharfman
History was made yesterday when Shalem Gin became the first IDF officer from the Bnei Menashe community, who are descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Gin received the rank of Second Lieutenant in front of friends and family at a ceremony held at the Bahad 1 military base in the Negev.
This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that under President Barack Obama's leadership military cooperation with Israel has increased. The article said, "U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year. Top-ranking U.S. and Israeli soldiers have shuttled between Tel Aviv and Washington with unusual frequency in recent months. A series of joint military exercises in Israel has included a record number of American troops."
According to the article, "This month, about 200 U.S. Marines joined a battalion of Israeli soldiers for an all-night march through the Negev desert, the culmination of three weeks of joint drills. As dawn approached, they crept up on a mock village, an Israeli military-built recreation of a typical Palestinian hamlet, used for combat training."
The piece also noted, "The exercise was the biggest U.S.-Israeli joint infantry exercise ever, according to officials. By comparison, at the same exercise last year, there were only around 20 U.S. Marines involved. In the fall, there will be an even bigger joint infantry exercise involving tanks and armored vehicles, officials said."
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is an online non-profit volunteer based community newspaper serving the Philadelphia Jewish Community since 2005. We are dedicated to addressing the important social, political and cultural issues facing our community in a spirit of honesty, integrity and diversity.
Your tax-deductible donations will help give Voice to the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Community.
To pay by credit card or paypal, click here:
or send a check to:
Eric Smolen, Treasurer,
Philadelphia Jewish Voice,
327 Pembroke Road,
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is organized pursuant to
Pennsylvania's non-profit corporation law. We have tax-exempt status under IRS
Code Section 501(c)(3). Contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of
For more information about the Philadelphia Jewish Voice visit