MY STORY: Making a difference with Friends of IDF

It was time for action. But what exactly could I do? I wanted to somehow make a difference in the world.

By MASADA SIEGEL
June 14, 2007 13:14
idf story image 88 298

idf story image 88 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

It was time for action. But what exactly could I do? I wanted to somehow make a difference in the world. I knew I was good at throwing parties, so despite the fact that I never hosted a fund-raiser, I decided I was going to try. But for what organization, I wondered? I've always believed that Israel has been on the frontlines of terror, so it had to be an Israel-related organization. At the time I was living in New York City, so I called my mom in Arizona and asked her for the names of organizations which do good work. She mentioned Friends of the IDF. "Friends of the IDF?" I asked. "Who are they and what do they do?" My mom responded, "They are an Israeli organization dedicated to making the lives of Israeli soldiers better, by sending them care packages, building mobile gym units, building recreation facilities, helping lone soldiers who are serving but who don't have family in Israel and sponsoring soldiers to go to college." "Wow, I like it." I couldn't help but think Israeli soldiers are really the people who protect all of us from terrorists. My mom gave me the phone number of Friends of IDF and I dialed immediately. I was connected to a woman named Hilit. "Hi, my name is Masada, and I'm your average person on the street. But I want to help. I want to throw a fund-raiser for you." I said. "Wow, sure, great, when can we meet?" she responded. A few days later, we met in her midtown office. I liked Hilit immediately, her warmth and excited demeanor were infectious. Moments later we were on the phone with my friend Geoffrey, who agreed to donate his home on the Upper West Side for the event. I recruited my close friend Tanya, and suddenly a group of people, who cared about Israel and America were sitting around Geoffrey's dining-room table planning organizing and fund-raising. The event was a huge success. Seven Israeli soldiers spoke, the president of Friends of the IDF, Jack Lahav, attended, as well as Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Hemeli, who was running the American side of the organization. More than 100 young people showed up, and we even had to turn 80 people away. Between ticket sales, donations, silent auction and raffle tickets, we raised over $10,000, enough money to buy a mobile gym unit, a place for soldiers to escape from the heat, exercise and have a few minutes to rest. Friends of the IDF young leadership grew in scope and size after this event. A woman who attended the party, Orna Kirsh, organized a young leadership board and became its first president. Today in NYC alone, more than 5,000 young people are members and their parties are the hottest ticket in town. I attended FIDF's second annual mission to Israel. It was an extraordinary experience. I was able to spend time on air force, army and naval bases and meet all the young soldiers. The bases went to extraordinary lengths to show us what being in the army was all about. We viewed live tank exercises, and were taught how to use an M-4 machine gun and climb ropes. On one of the bases, we were shown state-of-the-art technologies on how incoming missiles are tracked. Many of the soldiers also shared their stories and hopes and dreams for the future. The naval base we spent time in was on the border between Israel and Lebanon. A sailor pointed through the barbed wire fence at an old building that had a Hizbullah flag flying over it. He explained, "When we left Lebanon, it was too expensive to destroy all our old buildings. So now you can see Hizbullah moved in, and are flying their flag." On that base a few of us wandered into the sailor's quarters. They were beyond simple. I noticed the sheets on one of the beds had a Dalmatian cartoon pattern; there was an assault rifle right on top of it. I shook my head at the irony. The next day we spent time with the Jordan Valley brigade. We had to take an armored, bulletproof bus to get to the base because we were driving through the West Bank. The base looked like it was out of a movie, the Israeli flag flying in the wind and a group of simple buildings surrounded by beautiful desert mountains. The soldiers took us to the waiting jeeps as we were going on patrol with them. My jeep bumped up and down and hot dusty air flew on my face. The major apologized that the air-conditioning didn't work. I couldn't believe he was apologizing to me, when this was a one-day deal for me and for him was daily existence. We stopped to overlook Jordan. The soldiers proceeded to show us how to clear a minefield as part of the land between Israel and Jordan is filled with those deadly devices. The soldiers fired off shots, a mine blew up, and a small fire started. (The region was so dry and hot it was 12 hours before they were finally able to put the fire out.) We then drove on, but then one jeep got stuck, we all waited. That group got up close and personal with Jordanian soldiers on patrol on the other side of the border who waved to them. Moments later we were back to the base. Even though I grew up in Arizona, I still felt hot, dehydrated and downright overheated. I stuck my head under a faucet. The major I was driving with was concerned and asked me if I wanted an IV put in me because he thought I looked like I was about to faint. I felt awful, but was embarrassed so I just kept drinking and pouring ice water on my head. After a scrumptious lunch, we headed to the firing range, where they set up a number of training exercises for us. There we shot targets with machine guns on top of jeeps, practiced throwing fake hand grenades (I couldn't even pull the pin off mine) and we got to shoot tear gas. It was all fun and games to try out new things, but it scares me to think of how many of the many soldiers I met are having to use these weapons to protect all of us. On the way over to another part of the base, I walked past the old swimming pool filled with dirt. I asked our group leader how much it would cost to rebuild and maintain the pool. "Half a million dollars," she answered. I remember thinking that I wish I could buy it for them, how great it would be for the soldiers stuck on this desolate, hot base to have a pool to cool off in. Just then one of the female soldiers I was talking to complimented me on my flower ponytail holder. I immediately pulled it out of my hair and gave it to her, wishing it was that easy for me to buy a swimming pool. The day concluded with Turkish coffee and a meeting with Beduin trackers who explained that they help the army see what the desert hides. Being a desert girl myself, I know that whether in the desert or the city, we don't hide all good people and the ability to fix our world. I'd like to make a difference once again, so if anybody out there is interested in helping the Friends of the IDF build that desperately needed swimming pool, please contact Friends of the IDF at (212) 244-3118, extension 17. Israel's soldiers make a difference every day, and we can too, one dollar at a time, one event at a time and one swimming pool at a time.


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