More than a few friends gathered at the Martin’s Valley Mansion in Hunt Valley on Oct. 23 as 700 Marylanders celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Baltimore chapter.
The event, chaired by renowned philanthropist and former chairman of FIDF Baltimore Hanan “Bean” Sibel, featured addresses by five Israeli soldiers, a performance by the IDF musical ensemble and honored the eight founding members of FIDF Baltimore.
Having all the founders together wasn’t exactly a reunion, at least according to Bill Fox.
“It wasn’t really us getting back together as much as it was us being together again,” said Fox, who along with being one of the chapter’s eight founders, is a member of the national FIDF board of directors. Fox said that in one way or another, all of the original founders, except for the late Haron Dahan, are very active in the organization.
The national FIDF was founded in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors with the intention of providing educational and social programs and facilities to support IDF soldiers. In 2018, the national FIDF is projected to raise more than $130 million to support its various programs and projects.
The organization now has 20 chapters across the United States including Baltimore’s chapter, founded in 2008. FIDF Baltimore is part of the FIDF Midatlantic Region, which has grown to include chapters in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. In the region, more than 3,000 active donors have helped build a recreation center, a gym and a leisure center at military bases in Israel.
“The IDF is the first line of defense for America. Israel holds the same values that we have,” said Mitch Gold, co-founder and president of FIDF Baltimore.
One of the program’s speakers was Tomar, a former IDF soldier who served in an elite combat unit. (The FIDF would only give his first name.) During his address, he shared his experience as a combat soldier and about taking advantage of one of FIDF’s programs after his father passed away.
“I decided to go to university and I heard about the IMPACT! program for combat soldiers. The IMPACT! scholarship, for the first time, gave me the feeling that people actually appreciate my service, even across the ocean,” he said.
During the 2017-18 school year, the FIDF granted 4,365 IMPACT! scholarships to students at more than 70 institutions throughout Israel.
For FIDF Baltimore chapter director Henry Rosenbaum, the event, which paid tribute to Israeli soldiers while celebrating the chapter’s accomplishments and milestone anniversary, was a great success. Rosenbaum made clear, during his interview alongside Gold, that love and commitment to defenders of the Jewish state does not require a loss of love for the United States. The support FIDF provides, he said, is not for military operations.
“The FIDF does not provide uniforms or weapons,” he said. “What we provide is education, social services and religious facilities on bases and support families that have lost someone from the military … and that’s what we are all about.”
When asked if support for Israel being a divisive issue affects the FIDF’s work, Rosenbaum said, “We are a 150 percent apolitical organization. Our mission, our goal, is to work to support the defenders of the state of Israel, end of story.”
Gold, however, weighed in to offer a different perspective to Israel’s presence in Gaza.
“It is unfortunate that American Jews are not as supportive of Israel as they used to be. That goes back to David and Goliath,” said Gold. “Israel used to be the David. Now they look like the Goliath, but they’re not, it’s more of a perception than reality. When you see Israel in uniforms and Hamas in civilian clothes, Israel looks like an occupation, but it is only defending itself.”
Both Gold and Rosenbaum were greatly enthused by the 700-person turnout at the gala, and said they hope the crowd at future galas will only grow. For Fox, the growth of FIDF in Baltimore and across the nation has been “extremely gratifying.” Even though he sits on the board of directors now, he humorously recalled when he knew nothing about the FIDF services.
“I for one, candidly didn’t know the FIDF existed,” Fox said. “When it was first proposed to me to become involved I said, ‘What’s an FIDF?’”