Chicago Jews get a taste of IDF pride

Group included residents and Jewish Agency donors from the Chicago metropolitan area, about 120 of whom were visiting Israel for the first time.

idf girls train 224 88 (photo credit: IDF)
idf girls train 224 88
(photo credit: IDF)
A delegation of more than 400 Americans, the largest mission to travel from the US for Israel's 60th Independence Day celebration, ended their trip with a special tour of the Tze'elim army base in the Negev this week. "It's very emotional because in the US our children go to college. Here the children get a month off and go straight to the IDF to protect the state. We are totally moved by that," Barry Rosenthal, chairman of the United Jewish Communities Chicago delegation, told The Jerusalem Post. "We don't have that feeling of national pride in the US." The Chicago delegation arrived last week to honor Remembrance Day and celebrate Independence Day. The group included residents and Jewish Agency donors from the Chicago metropolitan area, about 120 of whom were visiting Israel for the first time. The group commemorated Independence Day in Kiryat Gat, Chicago's partnership city, where they enjoyed a dinner with more than 200 local residents. The group traveled throughout Israel, visiting landmarks and tourist sites. It also toured Chicago-funded projects. "These people are getting a taste from all sides of Israel, and the army is a critical piece," said Linda Epstein, director of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Israel Office. "They visit projects to see where their money is spent," she said. While at Tze'elim, the group received a guided tour from the deputy commander of the base's Tactical Training Center, Lt.-Col. Arik Moreh, and met soldiers on the base. Concerned about the ongoing barrage of Kassam rockets in the western Negev, Rosenthal said that if not for the hard work of the IDF, "it wouldn't be one person [dead] - it would be 1,000." Kiryat Gat has remained untouched by the rockets, he said, but since it is within Katyusha range, it was vital for first-time visitors to understand what the security situation in Israel was like. "Most [of our group], their concern was, 'What is security like in Israel?'" Rosenthal said. "They wanted to go to a base and understand what all soldiers do for Israel." Rosenthal's wife, Karen, a co-organizer of the trip, said a main facet of the visit was to recognize the IDF's continued hard work. "This is a salute for 60 years of service," she said. "It's something that individuals wouldn't be able to see [without] coming to Israel with a trip [such as this]." Following the tour of the base, the group had dinner with about 1,000 combat soldiers. Afterward, the soldiers and mission members attended an on-base concert by pop idol Ninette Tayeb. The concert was presented as a gift for the soldiers by the UJC. Rosenthal said the Israeli-American interaction might have been the most important portion of the trip. "It's important that we go to a military base to interact with the individuals that make the State of Israel," he said. "We want to understand what all soldiers do for Israel. Without the IDF, there would not be an Israel." Although the UJC does not donate directly to the IDF, as this would be illegal according to US law, it does contribute to Israeli organizations that work with the military, Epstein said. The federation also uses donated money to work with individual soldiers in need, she added.