Delegation members and participants (from left): Dr. Moshe Shemma, col. res. and executive director of ZDVF; Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of general staff; and Haim Ronen, executive director of ZVDO. .
(photo credit: AYELET GABAI)
An international delegation of CEOs representing the Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans organization arrived in Israel this week to meet with wounded soldiers and raise money for a new rehabilitation facility in Ashdod.
The organization’s fund-raising efforts are on behalf of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization, which was established in 1949 to provide necessary medical care and rehabilitation for the 6,000 soldiers wounded in the War of Independence.
Today, ZDVO comprehensively treats 51,000 disabled soldiers, from every war and conflict since then, at its four facilities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, the delegation is raising $34 million for a fifth state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility in Ashdod, to serve nearly 7,000 disabled veterans living near the port city.
According to Ella Levine, national executive director of the US branch of the FIDV, the 13-strong delegation hail from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Britain and France.
“We have friends all over the world raising money for the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization, and this is the first time that such a delegation and conference was organized by the organization,” she said.
“Our mission is to meet other colleagues to see what each country is doing to raise money [for the disabled soldiers], exchange ideas, and present our plans to raise the maximum amount of money for the new center in Ashdod.
“It’s a major, major fund-raising effort,” she added.
Since arriving on Sunday, the delegation has met with political leaders, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as dozens of disabled soldiers in the South who would be served by the Ashdod facility.
“The new center is so important because these are people who are blind and in wheelchairs, so for them to get to Jerusalem, or even Beersheba, is almost impossible,” she said. “When the Ashdod center is built, they will be able to come and get the rehabilitation treatments without having to travel long distances.”
Levine noted that maintaining operations at ZAHAL’s existing four centers costs millions of dollars annually.
“The primary goal of our organization and delegation is to maintain the four centers because we are serving 51,000 veterans, and to raise additional funds for the new center in Ashdod,” she said.
Levine said that the delegation has been most moved by meeting with disabled veterans in need of rehabilitation services, and listening to each of their unique stories.
“For us to be able to meet the people we are serving, whose stories we are telling through our website and PR material... to be there in person to meet a blind man who thanks us for what we are doing to help him is the most rewarding part of this,” she said.
“I just hope that more people will learn about the work of the organization in the US because it’s a huge country and the funds needed are huge, so the more people who learn about Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans, the better.”