By Larry Gordon
Is it possible that we take the proficiency, effectiveness, and expertise of the Israel Defense Forces for granted? Let’s consider the facts: they are over there, and most of the time we are over here. Despite that distance, however, they are nevertheless in the homeland protecting all of us.
So how does a military force 5,600 miles away from New York provide security for Diaspora Jewry? The dynamism of the IDF is such that they have the ability to cast a protective shield of sorts for Jews scattered wherever we may be in the far reaches of the globe.
But the IDF that we will be honoring and celebrating at a benefit dinner for Friends of the IDF on Wednesday, May 27 at the Sephardic Temple in Cedarhurst is not just a compilation of heroic army units and brigades. They are our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, our neighbor’s children, the bravest young men and women in the truest sense of that word.
They are young people like Baruch Kranz of Far Rockaway, a graduate of Yeshiva Darchei Torah who made a decision after high school that he wanted to defend the Jewish state not just from a distance, but right there where the action is.
“There aren’t too many Darchei boys in the IDF,” Baruch said the other night, but he added that he knows of at least one–that is, himself. Baruch served in the Givati Brigade, a ground-forces unit in the army. He says he was doing training and taking a special course a little over a year ago when the news broke about the kidnapping of the three boys at a bus stop outside of Jerusalem.
He said that just prior to the outset of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer, the training class he was attending was suspended and his unit was told to prepare to move out. “We weren’t sure what was about to happen but something was going on,” he says. Kranz was part of a demolition unit which he described as the troops that evacuate and bulldoze buildings so that ground forces can establish their position in the battlefield.
“I’m not going to say we were nervous but we certainly were anxious with anticipation and excited about seeing action,” he said. He says that the fighting in Gaza was intense and unlike anything he has ever seen. Forces were in and out of the theater of battle on a rotating basis. He says that the longest consecutive amount of time that he was in Gaza during the 50-day war was for a 12-hour period. Soldiers are moved in for a shift and then if possible moved out to rest before going back in the next day.
All told, Baruch Kranz served in the IDF for 18 months. He’s back in Far Rockaway now working for a security company but cannot say precisely what his current work assignment is. About his encounters and experience with Friends of the IDF, Baruch says that he cannot describe in sufficient terms the role they played in his year and a half as a lone soldier without family in Israel.
“Actually I really did not know too much about FIDF until I was on the Givati base and I saw this building with soldiers visiting for some rest and relaxation,” Kranz says. He says it was at that point that he discovered all the remarkable things that the organization offers lone soldiers. “They were constantly reaching out to us to see what we needed. I’m not saying that being in a demolition unit is easy by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s put it this way, Friends of the IDF made it much more manageable.”
Steve Grill and his wife reside in Long Beach and their 20-year-old son, Sam, is currently serving in a special-forces unit. I asked Steve about the unit his son is in and his immediate response is that they have instructions not to say too much about it. I don’t want to divulge any state secrets here, but Mr. Grill did say that his son is in a search-and-rescue unit that has been and will be involved in operations behind enemy lines.
He said that Sam’s unit is one that is rarely open to those from outside of Israel. “But Sam was determined from the outset to make it into that unit,” Steven Grill said, “and we are immensely proud of the fact that he made it.”
He adds that because of the unit he is in, he had to agree to give up many of his lone-soldier privileges that include more time off and the opportunity to come back to the States to visit with family. Nevertheless, Steve Grill adds, FIDF arranged for Sam to reside with other frum soldiers at Kibbutz Yavne where he spends Shabbos when he is off. “We will be at the dinner on May 27 in Cedarhurst,” he says, “because we’re very grateful for the fashion in which they have been helpful to us.”
Sam Grill is a graduate of Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence and his father says that the young man knew at a very young age that he wanted to serve the country as a member of the IDF. “We are very proud of the path Sam has chosen and support him fully,” his father said.
Jay Spector of Lawrence says he attends many dinners in the course of the year but, he points out, as far as he and his wife, Malky, are concerned, none are more interesting than or as important as the FIDF Gala in Cedarhurst.
“There is no army in the world like the IDF,” says Jay. He goes on to explain that amongst the things that makes the IDF so special and so unique is the fact that it is an army composed of soldiers from the far reaches of the world.
While discussing the importance of the FIDF dinner, we also touch upon how this may be the only military in the world that depends on communities around the world to help supply the soldiers in the field with things like warm sweaters and thermal socks in the winter and items like insulated canteens that provide them with cool drinks during those very hot Middle Eastern summers.
Jay Spector describes how he became involved with the FIDF and interestingly enough it begins with an FIDF dinner in Manhattan. A few years ago, Jay asked the powers-that-be why they do not start a division or a chapter of the organization in the Five Towns. He was told at the time that there was a North Shore division of the FIDF and that he could always attend the Great Neck dinner if he wanted a more local type of event. “I told them at the time that they don’t understand, but people from the Five Towns are not going to Great Neck for a dinner.” Thus the seeds were planted for a Five Towns FIDF event.
It is now the fifth year since its founding, and Jay can be proud that he was the catalyst that planted the seeds of what has turned into an extraordinary annual event. Today the Five Towns division of FIDF raises over $350,000 and Jay, as well as others who play central roles in the event, are looking forward to spending the evening with 16 courageous young men and women and their families from the Five Towns and surrounding vicinity.
While many of the different FIDF chapters raise money for various project that benefit soldiers, the Five Towns division, Jay Spector says, has undertaken to support projects that benefit Nachal Chareidi and have been the impetus for the supply of what he refers to as “spiritual needs” for the troops.
Support of these specific projects means that the money we donate to FIDF is earmarked for items like sifreiTorah that travel with different units, tefillin, mezuzos, and tzitzis as well as portable sukkos that also travel with the soldiers during that chag. FIDF funds also provide support for wounded soldiers and feature programs that ease a soldier’s transition back to civilian life.
All in all, this is both an important and special cause. The May 27 event in Cedarhurst will feature as master of ceremonies renowned attorney Benjamin Brafman. About the FIDF and the dinner, Brafman said, “The FIDF Dinner has always been important to me and my family because it helps support the IDF who defend all of us. This year, the dinner is even more important because of how many soldiers lost their lives in last summer’s war in Gaza. If this year’s event is not packed beyond capacity, shame on all of us!”
Jay Spector sums it all up by making reference to the organization’s motto: “They look after Israel, and we look after them.”
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.