FRIENDS OF THE IDF attend a New York gala to raise funds for the troops.
(photo credit: FRED MARCUS)
NEW YORK – Some 1,500 young Jewish professionals came together on Saturday to raise funds for Friends of the IDF, during the organization’s annual Young Leadership Gala, also dubbed “the Jewish Oscars”.
“My whole life I was sort of a blind Zionist. Always in my mind and in my heart I was pro-Israel but I was not really sure why,” Alex Berman, 25, who also serves on the Board of the FIDF Young Leadership New York division told The Jerusalem Post.
Berman got involved with FIFD after returning to the US after a six month student exchange program in Israel.
“Until you’ve been I don’t think you’re ever really a Zionist,” he said, “It’s just this feeling of feeling a little more whole.”
For a year after his semester at Tel Aviv University, Berman considered volunteering in the IDF.
“I was ultimately convinced that as great a mission as that is, Israel needs champions here as well,” he said. “In the back of my mind there is still this feeling that I owe something more but with FIDF I’ll always be a soldier.”
As part of his role with the organization, Berman is involved in raising funds and advocating for Israel on social media, and recruiting young adults to get involved on Israel’s behalf.
Over the past years, Jewish leaders have warned against the decreasing involvement of young American Jews with Israel.
The Pew Research Center’s 2013 study on American Jewry showed that while a majority of American Jews say they feel attached to Israel, many have reservations about the country’s approach to peacemaking.
In addition, research conducted for the organization Jerusalem U, showed that while most young American Jews attended Jewish summer camp, their connection to Israel is weaker than that of their parents or grandparents.
But Berman believes Israel remains a very important part of his generation’s life in the US.
“I think every generation is going to look at the next one and say that they are less connected than them, but each one will have its reason to fall in love with Israel,” he said. “It could be that they fall in love with the people there, it could be that they fall in love with the technology.”
“I refuse to think that because kids aren’t speaking Hebrew in Jewish summer camp, it is reason to worry,” Berman added.
Another board member, Matthew Gelles, 27, said that while he does feel his generation has disconnected from the traditional and more religious aspect of Jewish identity, their cultural connection to Israel remains strong, partly because of programs like Birthright.
“I think that it has helped our generation want to support Israel and come to events like these,” he told the Post
. “When you see the country first hand, it’s a transformative experience.”
Gelles is a fourth generation American and grew up in Connecticut where he went to Jewish Day school.
“Israel is part of my daily life,” he said.
“My grandparents came to America but they could have gone to Israel. Personally I feel like any one of those soldiers could be me.”
“Most of my friends don’t have any connection to Israel and I think it’s unfortunate but the only way to really enforce it is to educate,” Gelles said.
Gelles said he believes that beyond the social aspect of attending “The Jewish Oscars” young Jews want to feel a part of something, and helping Israeli soldiers is a way for them to achieve that.
“The FIDF uniquely connects to young people more so that any other group, because we’re talking about soldiers our age,” he said. “That’s why I’m involved.”
Some $550,000 were raised at the event to provide various forms of support to IDF soldiers.