When an American teenager turns 18, he is able to put on a basketball uniform and play on a varsity team. When an Israeli teenager turns 18 years old, he is handed a gun and an IDF uniform and sent to go fight for his country.
“Their job is to look after Israel, ours is to look after them,” is the motto of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a nonprofit started in 1981 by Holocaust survivors. FIDF provides social, educational, cultural and recreational programs for Israeli soldiers. It also provides support and services to the families of fallen soldiers.
“I always had the dream that I would live in Israel, really learn Hebrew, and join the army,” said Sgt. Gidon Silverstein at an event to raise awareness and funds to create a Five Towns chapter of the FIDF. The kickoff event was held in Lawrence and was hosted by Jay & Malky Spector and Steven & Marilyn Garber.
Silverstein recently completed his army service as a lone soldier. Originally from Massachusetts, Silverstein had visited Israel as a child and teenager and always knew that he wanted to return. At 27, he left a promising Wall Street career for Israel. The army initially told him that at his age, he could be either a cook or a driver. But Silverstein was persistent and was ultimately drafted into a combat unit, as he had wanted. He finished his service in May.
Silverstein said that, as a lone soldier, he received much support from the FIDF, who gave him vouchers to help him purchase food, appliances and other necessary items. Many of Silverstein’s friends in the army received full academic scholarships from the FIDF to attend universities after completing their service.
About 5,000 lone soldiers serve in the Israeli army every year, despite the financial and emotional challenges they face by not having any immediate family in Israel. Lone soldiers can be orphans or Israeli-born soldiers estranged from their families, but more than 50% of lone soldiers come from outside of Israel.