TZAHAL SHALOM of Northern Westchester
FROM: INSIDE ARMONK MAGAZINE
DATE: OCTOBER 22, 2015
Israeli Officers Tell Their Stories
Officers of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have arrived in Northern Westchester. They will share their stories this week in parlor-style events in local homes, both high schools and middle schools, and other venues. Over one hundred people were honored to attend the event hosted by Congregation B’nai Yisrael on Wednesday evening.
On Sunday October 25 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Armonk, the officers once again will be telling their fascinating stories where the event-goers will be able to talk and mingle with them. Light snacks, wine and a presentation from a well-known comedienne, Cory Kahaney, are on tap for the evening. Tickets are $136 per piece for the adult-only event. For those who wish to participate, they can go online to tzahalshalom.org for further details that will be given once they register.
At the temple’s “Cafe Joe” event, the officers talked about their personal stories, their families, challenges and rewards, the humanitarian aspect of the IDF, and what life is like in Israel. The stories about their military experiences were fascinating. One spoke about his learned lesson as a commander: “You can’t ask your soldiers or your men to give all they have, especially in a special force unit, but anywhere really, if they feel like you are not taking care of their basic needs--which is their family back home.”
Their family backgrounds are varied and their ancestors come from all over the world: Argentina, the United States of America, Australia, South Africa, Europe and England. They built Israel out of nothing with help from their allies, which included the U.S.A.
The young officers’ visit is courtesy of Tzahal Shalom of Northern Westchester, a non-profit organization which is in its tenth year as Friends of the IDF (FIDF). The seven officers, five young men and two young women between the ages of 22 and 29, stay with families in the local communities. Families open their homes working with the Tzahal Shalom program which is funded by individual donations and support from the Jewish community.
The members of the 2015 delegation, like the delegates before them, were chosen for their extraordinary participation in military operations. This trip is seen as a reward. The 10-day stay includes a few days to sightsee in New York City.
All of the seven officers are in the Israeli military beyond the required two years for women and three years for men. They are “goodwill ambassadors and resources for information about the IDF and Israel.” Each shared a story of their passion of the command of their military missions and their individual commitments as commanders of different branches of the IDF.
They spoke of the connections between the Israelis and Americans who share common values of pushing themselves, working hard, and challenging themselves as much as they can.
The delegates represent soldiers from various active duty stations and professions. Stories were told of their responsibilities and brave military operations.
Their special force units and their operations are diverse. They include a Navy commander; an Air Force pilot; an Air Force air traffic controller; a special brigade commander; a platoon leader; a member of the special elite combat unit; and an infantry commanding officer.
One of the female officers said life in Israel is normal. “Some people that I’ve spoken with here say they are afraid to visit Israel right now because of all the stabbings, shootings, and scary terror attacks.” But she has been in the army for six years -- in operations on the Syrian border, posted at the West Bank, and last summer during the Gaza War. She says her mother was never as petrified as she was last week when she said, “You are not going to walk the streets of Manhattan alone, are you? There are crazy people all around the world.”
One of the other officers said, “Growing up in Israel you feel safe. Some of you may ask, ‘How is that possible with all that is going on?’ The reason is that the soldiers are protecting you.” But he added, every kid knows in the back of their mind that when they grow up, they will have to enlist themselves.
“They will return to Israel with a renewed spirit and great pride,” said Rabbi Joshua Strom. “And in return, we get the gift of their presence and to build relationships with these special individuals.”
Article written by Tzahal Shalom Alumni Natanel Amitai, Aishe Magazine
Thoughts from an IDF Soldier
I spent three days in Gaza and was released to
bury a close friend whowas killed in action.
by Captain Netanel Amitai
My name is Netanel Amitai, I served in the IDF for 7 years, my last position
being a company commander in the armored corps, ranked Captain. I was
released from the army two years ago and am currently serving in reserve
duty as Operations Officer for my battalion, and serve in the capacity of a
Major. During my service I saw action in the second Lebanese war and Cast
Lead operation, as well as being drafted for the Pillar of Defense (some of these names could easily be made into Hollywood blockbusters). In the current escalation I spent nine days in uniform, three of them in the Gaza area, and unfortunately was released to bury a former soldier and close friend, Cpt. Dima Levitas who was killed in action two days ago. Since then I have not been allowed back in, and thus have the time to sit and write this letter from the comfort of my home in Mesilat Zion, halfway between Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. The boys losing their lives at the time they did may have spared the state of Israel from the worst terrorist attack in its history.
The current situation has been escalating for over a month, leading to the current operation in the Gaza Strip. The truth of the matter is, however, that the situation never really did calm down as you may be led to believe. Quiet times, in Israel, are a matter of perspective. A week where 2 to 5 missiles have been fired at civilian populations is a "quiet week." The kidnapping of the three Israeli youths; however, started a snowball effect resulting in what you are seeing on your screens today. The untold truth of the matter is that the boys losing their lives at the time they did may have spared the state of Israel from the worst terrorist attack in its history. The numerous tunnels have been utilized till now for small scale attacks as a result of the operation. But had we waited, the possibility of thousands of Hamas warriors attacking through dozens of tunnels would have become reality. Coupled with rockets fired at the center of Israel, and attacks from the sea – we could have witnessed thousands of Israeli dead.
Another important point to mention is the suffering of the innocent civilians of Gaza. To ignore this would be inhumane. Pictures of children killed in airstrikes, of homes lying in rubble, of injured and panicked civilians bring tears to my eyes. It is, however, impossible not to ask who is killing these people. I have witnessed firsthand the IDF going to ridiculous efforts to clear civilian population and make sure that they are out of harm’s way, only to have Hamas warriors beat them back into the houses where weapons are being stored.
As if that is not enough, last week we witnessed the uncovering of weapons in two UNWRA schools, a fact nearly ignored by the international media. He who places weapons in schools, de facto sacrifices the lives of the children within for a photo op. One must also ask how these weapons made it into the school in the first place, without the knowledge of the UN personnel.
As sad as it is, the facts all point to Hamas sacrificing its own civilians in order to demonize Israel. Sadly, it seems to be working.I would like to remark about the innocent masses, from a historical point of view. Most citizens in Nazi Germany were innocent. They did not hate Jews; they did not want war. This did not stop Hitler from starting a war that killed 18 million people over the course of six years. The innocent masses were irrelevant. The same could be said for Russia under Stalin and the 20 million killed by his regime. Our reality is no different. As sad as it is, we must accept the fact that the innocent population has made itself irrelevant by choosing a terrorist organization as its leadership. If we want to exist ten years from now, we must see Gaza for what it is – a threat to our existence, despite the majority of innocent civilians.
Contrary to common belief, and this is very important, the Israeli centers of life are filled with people — daily life goes on almost uninterrupted, though the sirens make people run once in a while. Hamas has failed to impact even the smallest part of life in Israel, which in itself could be hailed as a victory. It seems however, that the media is unhappy about this. "How is it," they ask, "if your army is so humane, that so many Palestinians are losing their lives, while you are almost unharmed?" as if only the death of Israelis could make the situation more acceptable to them.
Israel built the Iron Dome; Hamas built terror tunnels.
I will tell you the simplest answer to this: Israel has invested millions of dollars over the past decades, in order to protect its civilians because we honor life above all else. In this constant arms race, we have not invented the doomsday weapon that will kill more enemies at once; we invented the "Iron Dome." Its only purpose is to protect Israeli civilians from rocket fire. Hamas, however, has spent millions of dollars, most of which came from the UN or European countries, and from American allies like Qatar or Dubai, to dig tunnels into Israel. Over 70 of these tunnels have been uncovered so far, with probably many more to come, each one of these costing many millions of dollars.
Is it really that hard to understand the difference? It seems that the world is incapable of connecting the dots, if not deliberately sacrificing Israel so as to avoid a worldwide conflict.
This conflict has also shown the ugly side of Israeli society. Starting with the gruesome retaliatory murder of the Palestinian youth by a 30-year-old Israeli, followed by some vile calls to kill all Arabs on social media networks and so called "talkbackers" posting on internet sites, and culminating in the attack of left wing protesters in the heart of Tel Aviv, protesters who gathered with a simple slogan – "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." This conflict has made it clear that there are some cancerous cells of hatred growing within us that we must cut out at the root. We must ensure that we remain a shining democratic beacon of liberalism and freedom in a region plagued with dictatorships and religious oppression.
That, my friends, is why you should be supporting Israel. Not because you are Jews, Not because you might know a few Israelis, but because we are fighting for the ideas on which you founded your country, and we are fighting not only for ourselves, but for the whole western world. As said by Mosab Hasan Youssef, son of one of the founders of the Hamas movement and a former Hamas member himself, "Israel is not the problem in the Middle East. Israel is the solution to the Middle East. If Israel fails in the Middle East, the western civilization will fall. It is our duty to protect and defend the Jewish state – for the generations to come and for the entire world."
Cpt Dimitry Levitas who died by sniper fire in Gaza.
Two days ago, I left Gaza in order to bury and pay my last respects to a former soldier of mine and close friend, Cpt Dima Levitas who fell leading a company of men into Gaza. Dima was about to be engaged; we all knew that he was planning it now for a few weeks, and was heralded as a rising star in the IDF, the rare kind of combat officer that everyone just knows is going straight to the top, the kind of man whom men follow without questioning, just because he is who he is. It is amazing how quickly all his dreams, all the hopes of those around him were silenced, and how irreversible some things are. We all need to make sure that Israel itself is not silenced, because with Israel, so many other ideas will die as well.
For those who have Israel in their heart, educate yourselves and learn all you can about our fight. Arm yourselves with the knowledge needed to defend what we are fighting for in the face of international ignorance and hatred. In this age, words can do more damage than any bomb or bullet. After you have done that, use your Facebook walls, your twitter accounts, your social media posts to spread the word, to fight alongside us. We need more time to protect our country and make sure that our children will live a quieter life. You can help us buy that time by fighting for us from your smart phone and computer and tablet.
I am more than happy to answer any questions that you might have and supply sources, and I will write my email on the bottom of this email. The "Tzahal Shalom" Facebook page also allows you to contact many IDF officers that you have met over the years, and I am sure there are many who will be happy to answer questions and "supply ammunition."
I thank you for taking the time to read this rather long email, and for your willingness to give us a voice. May you know only peace and quiet, and may we all know better days...
Captain (in reserve) Netanel Amitai
Dear Tzahal Shalom of Northern Westchester,
Just returned from a life-changing trip to Israel and felt the need to thank you.
Almost 5 years ago, you blessed us with Noa. Somehow, you believed there would be a connection and matched her with us for the 10 days she was here through Tzahal Shalom. Our “official trip” to Israel began on Monday evening, 9/5. We decided to go 4 days earlier in order to spend the weekend with Noa and her very new husband (they got married about a month ago!), Yonatan, whom we actually “met” via Skype when she was staying with us. They live in Tel Aviv and planned things to do for most of that weekend. She even took us to meet her family in Hod Ha’Sharon Sunday night for a typical family dinner with her mom, aunt, uncle and grandmother - and, her aunt, who is a chef/caterer, prepared a magnificent feast of Israeli food for us! I hugged her mom and told her that I am Noa’s U.S. mom! They were all incredibly warm, welcoming and lovely.
We love Noa like one of our own. Thank you for placing her in our home!
Hope you and your families are well.
Dear Tzahal Shalom,
On behalf of our synagogue community, please accept this token of appreciation for your gift of several hours this past Shabbat morning with IDF Lieutenant Omer H.
Omer's time with us was absolutely fabulous. She captivated our Hebrew School students and their parents with elements of her life story. We were particularly impressed with her windsurfing background and despite her real chance of Olympic success, her choice to enter Israel's Navy........
We eagerly look forward to our next Tzahal Shalom visitor next Fall!
With deepest appreciation ,
Rabbi Eytan H
IN THE NEWS AND TESTIMONIALS
Many thanks for a memorable 10 days!
It was wonderful to be a part of this terrific program and we hope to continue to be involved.
Mazel Tov to the three of you — a really tremendous job with enormous impact.
— 2012 Host Family
Tzahal Shalom alumni Daniel Elbo giving a tour of the underground tunnels to Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta Jones
.FROM: THE FIDF GALA
DATE: OCTOBER 24, 2015
In attendance at the special event were several active-duty IDF soldiers, including Lt. Shlomo, a deputy commander in a Golani Brigade Special Forces company. Shlomo described an operation he participated in during Operation Protective Edge, in which he entered a booby-trapped terror tunnel to find fellow soldiers after they entered to search for and recover the body of Hadar Goldin Z"L.
"What makes the IDF special is that even when I thought I was going to die, the main thing that was going through my head was worrying about my friends' lives. I do not feel that I'm special, because I'm sure that that's exactly how every soldier in the IDF would act. "- Lt. Shlomo
WHAT AN AMAZING 10 DAYS!
WE LOVED IT ALL!
Liz, Adam, Becky & Sam (2014 Host Family)
An Interview with Anita Greenwald about Tzahal Shalom, as seen in Armonk Magazine
December 5, 2014
Tzahal Shalom: Soldiers Come in Peace to Northern Westchester
Since 2006, a new delegation of seven active-duty combat officers representing most branches of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has visited Northern Westchester for ten days each October to meet with as many residents as possible and forge connections between Israel and the communities here. Tzahal Shalom of Northern Westchester is a grassroots project under the auspices of the Friends of the IDF (FIDF).
Funded by individual donations from the community, Tzahal Shalom enables the select group of officers to meet with local school children, residents, young adults, families, college students, veterans’ groups, and synagogue congregants through formal presentations, school visits, religious services, parlor meetings, and informal community events. The soldiers, during this reprieve from their combat duty, are also treated to a few days of sightseeing around New York including visits to the 9/11 Memorial, a Broadway show, West Point Military Academy, and a boat ride around Manhattan.
The soldiers stay with area families who are selected from numerous volunteers. Priority is given to families from a range of Northern Westchester communities who have children currently in high school. Each soldier and host family also has a “buddy” family to share some of the many travel and logistical obligations that are required during the busy 10-day stay.
Through their contact with over 2,000 residents, the soldiers bond with Americans and have the rare opportunity to bypass the noise and miscommunication inherent in the media narratives of a complex situation and to speak of their experiences as one person to another.
Tzahal Shalom is administered by founders Anita Greenwald and Michele Kraushaar along with Randi Kreisler and Alisa Emanuel and dozens of volunteers. The 45 soldiers who have participated in the program have had contact with many thousands of residents in Northern Westchester. Their interactions often lead to long-term friendships with soldiers remaining in contact with host families and visits in Israel.
Anita Greenwald spoke to All About Armonk after this year’s successful program.
AAA: Who are the soldiers who participate and how are they picked?
AG: All of the soldiers who come over are officers. This means that they have stayed in the IDF longer than their initial requirement. All Israeli citizens are required to serve immediately after high school so these soldiers are a little older, since they have advanced training. This year, the youngest was 21 and the oldest was 26.
Our sponsoring organization, FIDF, is responsible for selecting the individuals. Each one is picked for a different reason. We want representatives from all branches of the IDF - Navy, Air Force, ground forces, Education, Intelligence. They could be picked because they’ve done something extraordinary and this is a reward. We’ve had National Heroes. Others, because they have a particularly compelling story or because they speak well. They are required to talk a lot – to many groups of all ages and sizes. All of them speak English but not all have used English much so far.
We always include two women and since they’re officers, they command many people and have a lot of responsibility, and that’s important for our kids to see.
AAA: What do they do when they’re here?
AG: Their mission is to connect with people here and to touch as many people as possible. They are goodwill ambassadors and resources for authoritative information about the IDF and Israel. We have them scheduled day and night to maximize their time here. They visited classrooms at Byram Hills, Greeley, Fox Lane, John Jay, and Somers, plus all the area synagogues. [Host families also come from Mt. Kisco, Pleasantville, Briarcliff and synagogues visited included those in South Salem and Brewster]. Some schools have them for certain classes for a period or two, some for the entire school for most of the day. They don’t all go to each place – we might send four of them to a school assembly or two for a small class. Rarely do we send all seven together. They attend Shabbat services individually both Friday night and Saturday morning so we can provide an Israeli soldier in every area synagogue. They go to parlor meetings in local residents’ homes. There are social events in restaurants with volunteers and other community members. We do an open meeting for the community called Café Joe – this year 250 people attended. We do an event for high school kids – 70 kids attended a bowling party this year. B’nai Yisrael in Armonk hosted a game night with middle-school kids.
The soldiers also meet with a group of local 20-somethings in the city. The event is chaired by the young adults. They visited with members of the American Legion and talked to vets from World War II and Vietnam. And, they visited with students at West Point.
AAA: What kinds of thing do they talk about at the presentations?
AG: They talk a lot about the situation in Israel and what life is like there – what it’s like to go into the armed forces at 18 instead of college. Depending on the age of the audience, they get more specific about what they do and what life is like in the army, and the morality of what they do. This was a very intense year because of the war in Gaza. All seven of them served in [Operation] “Protective Edge” this year and they were all very affected by it. They are not prepped at all for these visits. These are not PR people. They tell firsthand stories and it’s amazing to hear.
One guy flew a bomber and he talked about how they try everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. He said that they drop leaflets warning people to evacuate buildings, they call cell phone numbers of people in the building, and they shake the buildings to further warn people. One soldier, a medic, talked about how they saved the life of a terrorist who had just stabbed an Israeli officer to death. Once the person was no longer a threat, the medic was obligated to treat him, without malice. Those are stories you don’t hear in the news.
AAA: Are they aware of the negative media accounts from this country and around the world?
AG: I don’t think that the American and international media are really on their radar. They have enough to worry about. What’s so wonderful is that they come here and feel the support. We don’t really understand how different things are in Israel – there everyone’s kid is in the army and at risk. They’re all doing their job - they’re not so special. They come here and they get such incredible feedback that they go back feeling energized and renewed with a positive sense about what they’re doing.
After they get picked up at the airport and get cleaned up, they come to a welcome brunch always hosted by one family in Chappaqua. Waiting for them is a community of about 120 people involved in the program – all the volunteers and hosts, people who set up the school visits, the meals. And everyone stands up and claps for them like the heroes they are. But they’ve never been treated that way and they don’t expect it. In Israel they are just like everyone else; here they feel a little bit like rock stars.
AAA: This must all cost a fair amount of money. How do you raise the funds?
AG: It’s funded 100% by private donations. We have to pay for their airfare and they get a stipend from the Israeli army which we pick up the tab for because they are on duty with us. There are extras - We take them to a Broadway show among other things. We run one event that’s a fundraiser. This year it was held at Brynwood Country Club and we had 200 people attending. People are very generous, especially after having personal contact with the soldiers. They are so moved.
AAA: What plans do you have for the future of the program?
AG: We want the program to continue for as long as possible. We’re taking steps to make the structure more concrete – forming a board of directors and soliciting new people particularly those with kids living at home to become the leaders. Of the four of us who administer the program, three will be empty nesters next year. It’s good to have people involved who have teenagers at home.
It has been such an amazing experience for everyone involved. The host families fall in love with “their” soldier. They often stay in contact for years through emails and visits to Israel. It’s like gaining a new family member. And the host families and buddy families develop close friendships and that strengthens our community.
And the response from the soldiers has been so powerful. I want to quote from an email that was sent to one of the host families by the mother of the soldier. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that I think we are really changing lives on both sides.
“…I am so moved to hear how thoughtful caring and loving relative strangers have been reaching out to our sons and daughters. How quickly you all became so close and like extended family. These ten days have meant so much to B… and I already feel that the healing process following the Gaza war has started…I feel that we have gained a family even if we have yet to meet in person. Needless to say, after such an experience, he has to come down and I think that the next few days may be bumpy. What will keep him going is the knowledge that there is a dedicated and committed community that stands behind him and his fellow soldiers, supporting him in practical ways and keeping the morale high. Israel is fortunate and we so appreciate these gestures…”
To learn more information about the program, see more photos, and find out ways to become involved, visit the website at tzahalshalom.org.
By Nomi Schwartz- staff writer