Tag Archives: IDF

Campus Activist to Active Duty

 

Jason Frances, CAMERA Fellow

Jason Frances was a CAMERA Fellow at the University of Central Florida this year, as well as serving as vice president of CAMERA-supported group Knights for Israel. Next year, he takes the exciting step of moving to Israel and serving in the Israel Defense Forces. In his final Fellow article for CAMERA on Campus, Jason explains why he is making this decision.

As my time as a CAMERA on Campus Fellow comes to an end, I want to share my story about my experience as a university student and the decision to make Aliyah and join the Israeli Defense Forces.

When I first transferred to University of Central Florida in spring 2015, I had very little connection with Israel aside from the Birthright trip I took two years prior. I had no plans of getting involved and didn’t know that I even could. As soon as I arrived though, I began meeting other Jews and pro-Israel Students on campus, but never got too involved. By the summer though, I was given the opportunity to go on Onward Israel, a two-month internship program in Jerusalem.

That is where my journey really took off. When I got back to Israel I instantly fell in love with the country and began thinking about the possibility of moving there after college. I also decided that I wanted to become more involved with advocacy on campus to share Israel with every student at UCF.

As I came back to school for my junior year, I had a new passion and excitement for Israel that I never had before. I became heavily involved with Knights for Israel, UCF’s Israel group, and began educating myself on the conflict and the region. As Junior year ended, I was able to return to Israel on the Zionist Organization of America campus trip and used the rest of my summer in Israel to see if I could make Israel my home. That summer is also when I decided to join the IDF as well.

Jason is moving from College to serve as a soldier, protecting the State of Israel

Before then I had never really thought about joining, but as I became more connected with the land, I realized that the only way I could call Israel my home, is if I defended it first. For my senior year, I was appointed Vice President of Knights for Israel and was accepted as a Fellow with CAMERA on Campus. These opportunities gave me even more motivation and focus for life after graduation. By working with these organizations, I was able to directly impact pro-Israel activity on my campus and learn more about the place I will be living.

As I graduate and move to Israel, I am extremely excited for the next chapter in my journey. Life in the IDF will be extremely tough, but I know that my campus experience will motivate me on tough days and when I ask myself what I’m doing there, I will have an answer. I want to thank CAMERA on Campus, Knights for Israel and UCF for helping me complete my journey because without each and every person, I know that none of this would be possible.

CAMERA thanks Jason for his contribution to defending the Jewish state, on campus and in the IDF. We wish him Behatzlacha!

Israel Remembers the Fallen and Victims of Terror on Yom HaZikaron

This evening Yom HaZikaron begins, Israel’s national day of remembrance. The country comes to a halt to remember those who have been killed in Israel’s wars, and in terrorist attacks.

Unfortunately over the past year, Israel saw more Israelis killed in terrorist attacks. Last June, Hallel Yaffe Ariel z”l, a thirteen year old girl, was murdered in her sleep by a Palestinian terrorist, killing her in her own bedroom. As soon as her parents had finished the seven day “Shiva” mourning period, they went themselves to visit another group of mourners – ten orphans, whose father Rabbi Miki Mark z”l had been murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, in a drive-by shooting.

Friends of Hallel at her funeral

As well as the victims of terrorist attacks, we remember the soldiers who have died in Israel’s many wars. One of the most famous of Israel’s soldiers is Michael Levin z”l, a lone soldier from Philadelphia, whose story captured the hearts of Jews around the world. He was killed on August 1st 2006. He was 22 when he was killed in combat.

 

There are a number of ceremonies that take place around the country to mark the day. In the evening, the President and Chief of Staff of the IDF attend a central ceremony at the Western Wall. At 8pm, the siren sounds, and the country pauses for a minute’s silence, and then the ceremony begins. Then, in the day, the siren sounds once again at 11am, and the country once again pauses. There is then a ceremony at Har Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery in Jerusalem, at which the Prime Minister speaks.

Over 23,000 Israelis have been killed in wars and terror attacks. As we pay tribute to them each year, the wish we have is the same, and it is simple – that next year, we should not have to add any names to the list, and that the families of those who have died should find some comfort, as the Jewish people unites to remember their loved ones.

May their memories be a blessing.

To be a Druze Commander in a Jewish Army

The actions of the IDF are frequently in the news, but nothing compares to being able to actually hear firsthand from IDF soldiers themselves. CAMERA on Campus brought Major Abdallah (whose full name cannot be revealed for security reasons) to speak to American audiences – and he brought a unique story.

Major Abdallah with students at University of Central Florida

Despite the fact that Major Abdallah is a senior officer in the IDF, the army of the Jewish State, he is not himself Jewish, but is Druze. There are over 100,000 Druze in Israel, and they have full rights, and are represented in all areas of Israeli life. Major Abdallah has played a major role in fighting the terror tunnels that threaten Israel, and that led to the 2014 Gaza War. At his event at the University of Alaska, hosted by CAMERA-supported group UAA Students United, he described how he has been in involved in the destruction of nineteen terror tunnels. (That event was covered by the campus newspaper at the university, The Northern Light)

Major Abdallah’s tour also featured an exciting milestone, when Major Abdallah spoke at University of South Florida, marking the first event for our new CAMERA-supported group, Bulls for Israel.

Major Abdallah with the student leaders of Bulls for Israel

Major Abdallah spoke on numerous campuses across the country during his tour with CAMERA, and the message he conveys is a powerful one. In other countries in the Middle East, sectarian tensions mean that members of different religions or sects are fighting against each other. Hearing from a Druze member of the Jewish army is a powerful message about the tolerance and diversity of Israel, something that is a model for the whole Middle East.

Major Abdallah with students at SUNY Buffalo

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern

Overcoming Disability to Serve in the IDF

Many Americans have served in the IDF, making an important contribution to Israel’s security. Even though every soldier has a story, the story of Izzy Ezagui is especially inspiring, and CAMERA-supported group Realize Israel hosted Izzy at New York University last month and heard his story first hand.

Izzy was born in New York and was raised in Miami, and he enlisted in the IDF at 18. He fought during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and during the operation he was seriously injured. As a result of his injury, he had to have his arm amputated below the elbow. While understandably many would be broken by losing a limb, Izzy was determined to return and continue serving in his combat unit, despite the fact he only had one fully functioning arm. He managed to get accepted back into his unit and returned to full IDF service; running, crawling, jumping and shooting a gun, despite his disability.

Izzy talking to students at NYU.

Izzy’s story of determination, courage, and dedication to the Jewish State is inspiring to Israel’s supporters, but is also inspiring to people with disabilities, as he demonstrates how one can overcome adversity and continue to live and thrive. For this reason, Realize Israel partnered with the Disabilities Student Union to host this event, and members of the union were also inspired by Izzy’s incredible story.

Izzy with students who attended the event

Izzy has now completed his IDF service, finishing with a rank of First Sergeant, and has returned to live in the US. But his work for Israel continues on campuses, as he shares the story of Israel, and of one Israeli soldier, inspiring students around the country.

Contributed by Aron White, CAMERA intern.

 

US Campuses Learn About IDF Ethics

In recent months, CAMERA has hosted numerous events featuring senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel, who shared their experiences of the ethical challenges they face during their service.

Yeshiva University’s Israel Club, a CAMERA-supported group, hosted Colonel Benzi Gruber (res.), a vice commander of an IDF division. He is involved in the training of soldiers, which includes discussions and sessions about how to deal with complex moral situations.  The IDF has a detailed Code of Ethics which guides the conduct of their soldiers, both in regular service, as well as during wartime. Colonel Gruber showed clips depicting various situations soldiers find themselves in, in order to demonstrate just how difficult some of the situations are, and how little time there is to make decisions. Colonel Gruber is the founder of the organization “Ethics in the Field,” which educates about this topic, and he personally lectures frequently in Israel and around the world about IDF ethics. He has also appeared on major US television networks to defend IDF conduct during military operations.

Colonel Benzi Gruber speaking at Yeshiva University

On the same day, the Friends of Israel Club at Rockland Community College, another CAMERA-supported group, hosted Sergeant Benjamin Anthony.  Sergeant Anthony founded “Our Soldiers Speak,” which brings the stories of Israeli soldiers to student and military audiences in the USA. In a powerful address, Sergeant Anthony, who was heavily involved in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, described some of the situations IDF soldiers find themselves in. Both events gave students, sitting in their classrooms, first hand accounts of the high ethical standards that the IDF sets for itself in the complicated battlegrounds of the Middle East.

Sergeant Benjamin Anthony at Rockland County College

Emet Israel Hosts Annual BBQ

On Monday, September 12th, CAMERA-supported group Emet Israel had their first event, their annual BBQ.  At the event, Emet Israel gave away free tshirts, served kosher food, and took the opportunity to speak about upcoming programs and events, including Israeli-Arab diplomat George Deek’s tour, Canes Night Live, and Israel Day.  

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Emet Israel met their goals, with a large turnout of people who were genuinely interested in learning about the group, and signed up for their fellowship program. A lot of the students who asked questions were not affiliated with Israel or of Jewish decent; they were intrigued by the amount of activities and educational aspects Emet Israel holds. Numerous students applied for the fellowship program following the event. Many freshmen attended the BBQ, and following the event, “What Exactly is EMET?” emails were sent to the attendees. Every student that attended the event was so happy to receive an IDF-Emet shirt. Since the event, students wearing Emet shirts can be seen all over campus.

Celebrating bipartisanship in a partisan time

CAMERA Fellow Hayley Nagelberg.

CAMERA Fellow Hayley Nagelberg.

Last week, as I have so often, I got into a political conversation with some friends.  The topic at hand was if, judging by what we can see today, there will be a physical split down the road between the main political parties we know, or if they will remain unified for generations to come.

Not everyone agreed, as is the case in most discussions of the sort, but the conversation boiled down to one question: are people capable of being unified around specific topics? In other words, does bipartisanship exist at all?

The answer is without a doubt yes.  While there are extremists, it is pretty safe to say we can all agree on big ideas like freedom of speech and support of medical research. The path that leads to implementing these truths may not be clear, but we can all agree those should be givens.

Despite what many might think, the United States’ relationship with Israel is one of those issues that garners support from both sides of the aisle.

Source: www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org

Source: www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org

America sends billions of dollars every year to Israel in military aid, yet Israel is required to spend roughly three-fourths of that money on goods produced in America.  This money aids in strengthening tens of thousands of Americans’ jobs.

Through the United States’ Aid to Israel program, over one thousand American companies have signed contracts.  There are also joint research products between the United States and Israel including binational science, industry and agriculture foundations.

The bipartisan support for this alliance was overwhelmingly evident Monday, May 2, when student leaders gathered at the Illini Union to look back on a year of bipartisan cooperation on campus and beyond.  Students of all faiths and political positions were united in attendance.

The students watched as Illinois congressmen and senators — from both the Democratic and Republican parties — congratulated them on their cooperation and sincere bipartisan efforts. Mark Kirk, Randy Hultgren, Daniel Lapinski, Bob Dold, Peter Roskam, Tammy Duckworth and Rodney Davis all shared messages reiterating this point.

Congressman Randy Hultgren stands up for Israel in a speech on the House floor back in 2011 as well. Source: RepHultgren's video of the speech.

Congressman Randy Hultgren stands up for Israel in a speech on the House floor back in 2011 as well. Source: RepHultgren’s video of the speech.

“Within every generation there are individuals who stand up for what they believe in and become champions of causes that promote peace and solidarity and respect,” said Randy Hultgren, the Republican Congressman from the 14th district. “I’m glad many of you understand the importance of promoting and strengthening the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East and shares our democratic institutions and values.”

It is remarkable and inspiring that what unites our two nations is our shared democratic values.  In a region like the Middle East, where instability is found around every corner, having a stable ally that shares our values is so necessary.  This is an important alliance, and it is not only important to learn what unites our two countries, but to understand what our role is in promoting the relationship, no matter your political leaning.

They discussed understanding the mutually beneficial relationship in terms of ethics, security and economics.  And they reinforced the notion of America being a mediator in negotiations of the conflict, but not actually solving the conflict ourselves.

Daniel Lapinski, the Democratic Congressman from the 3rd district, recognized the value in universities being a place to debate national and international topics.  Furthermore, he reiterated the important notion that no nation is perfect, but what is notable in Israel, and makes it such a strong ally of America, is that people there, of all faiths, can express their disagreements with their governments in the press and the courts.

Everything they said was true, but the bipartisan relationship goes so far beyond that. It goes, as one student speaker put it, to a nonpartisan relationship.  Facts, statistics and talking points aside, there is something remarkable about this conflict — the conversation is not about parties, it is about people.

University campuses today seem to constantly be accused of being home to apathetic and lethargic millennials.  Maybe it’s the presidential race, but I see no apathy on this campus.  Instead, I see zealous debate doing exactly what Lapinski described, expressing disagreement through any means available.

In no way am I suggesting the conflict itself is beneficial, but the debate that stems from it is exactly what is needed as we look at the arguably growing political divide in this country.  We argue over statistics without taking the time to recognize the real life applications.  We, as students, are constantly told we are the leaders of tomorrow, but we don’t need to wait until tomorrow to express how the decisions being made today will affect us.

It may be hard to believe given everything that appears in the mainstream media, and even everything that you have witnessed around campus this year, but the U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the ties that truly binds our country, and one that benefits us all in more ways than we can count.

And it is a tie that no matter where we lie politically, has, can, should and will unite us.

This article was originally published in The Daily Illini.

Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at the University of Illinois, Hayley Nagelberg.

For Israel, every day is World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day. On a day like today, Israel can be extra proud of its impressive contributions to populations around the world.

In 1958, only ten years after the State of Israel was established and was struggling to build itself up, the state created an official humanitarian aid agenda. Since then, through various organizations, Israel has been dedicated to serving international humanitarian needs.

As the #IDFWithoutBorders map shows, the Israel Defense Forces have sent countless aid missions across the globe. Sent by the IDF to help the Philippines recover from a typhoon, one doctor explains that “This sort of mission allows you to be a real doctor, this is what medicine is all about.” Medical resources should be used for good, for treating people and saving lives and that is exactly what the IDF strives to do by bringing top medical care and support resources to places in need. With the IDF’s C4I BranchIsrael’s advanced military technology even allows doctors and nurses to create an internal digital medical file for every patient while abroad.

Hundreds of casualties were tended at the IDF field hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the earthquake earlier this year. Photo by IDF Spokesperson via FLASH90 and Israel21c

Hundreds of casualties were tended at the IDF field hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the earthquake earlier this year. Photo by IDF Spokesperson via FLASH90 and Israel21c

IDF delegations are often the first to set up field hospitals and provide help at post-disaster scenes. The IDF will carefully help in areas that could potentially put Israel in danger as well. The IDF recently began helping Syrians by allowing for the delivery of medical, educational, and food supplies into Syria.

Non-profit humanitarian aid organization, IsraAID's chief operating officer Navonel Glick. Source: CIJA

Non-profit humanitarian aid organization, IsraAID’s chief operating officer Navonel Glick. Source: CIJA

Aside from the IDF’s incredible aid work, IsraAID, a non-profit, apolitical organization, has provided aid relief to 37 countries and and reached over one million people in need. The organization works tirelessly to help reconstruct and rehabilitate populations recovering from crises, providing rapid response humanitarian aid as well as long term support programs.

Source: www.bicom.org.uk

Source: www.bicom.org.uk

Just days ago, IsraAID’s chief operating officer Navonel Glick was awarded with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for his dedication and leadership. Based out of the Tel Aviv headquarters, Glick manages this incredible organization. Glick feels very honored by this award and is pleased that it is bringing attention to the need to further expand international humanitarian aid.

Israel continues to develop internally, and with all its advancements, becomes even more dedicated to helping populations in need abroad.

Happy World Humanitarian Day from Israel!

To learn more about IsraAID, visit their website and check out their accomplishments from 2015:

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

Putting IDF Soldiers Through Higher Education

Haredi, or ultra-orthodox Jews, often live in sheltered communities in Israel. Recently, young Haredim have been either leaving their religious background or their community norms in order to serve in the IDF. Many Haredim, often despite their family’s wishes, are choosing to serve and overall become more involved in the workforce of the secular world.

Haredi soldiers. Source: mycatbirdseat.com

Haredi soldiers. Source: mycatbirdseat.com

For many, joining the Israel Defense Forces serves as a great way to become part of the secular world and increase one’s own opportunities. As an alternative to IDF service, those who are unable to serve in the military for medical, religious, or other reasons, can serve in Israel’s National Service, working at schools, hospitals, or other institutions for one to two years.

While the participation of Haredim in the IDF and Israel’s National Service is on the rise, Palestinians have recently become more involved in this avenue of Israeli society as well, serving in the both. Many Palestinians want to help protect the country that is allowing them to live freely, to work, and to advance professionally. Abed, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem explains, explains that she chose to join Israel’s National Service because as an expression of loyalty to the State of Israel. She recognizes the benefits of being in Israel, all that it offers her, and wants to give back to the state in return.

Source: twitter.com

Source: twitter.com

By serving in the IDF or Israel’s National Service, an individual gives up their time and dedicates their efforts to helping ensure the security and development of Israel. The State of Israel recognizes this and as a show of appreciation, has been increasing the benefits for participating young people. For example, the IDF has increased the salaries of soldiers.

The IDF has decided to help soldiers with their higher education recently as well. A new program has been launched to fund university costs for combat soldiers and soldiers who lack sufficient family support, financial or otherwise. Ideally, the IDF would like to develop this program so that every individual in Israel that dedicates their time to serving the country can be helped with higher education in return.

Education is key to financial and professional advancement. Current and recently released soldiers are very enthusiastic about this new program that will financially support them in their university costs. While now financially supporting university costs, the Israeli government is also trying to develop high-school education in order to increase university opportunities already from a younger age.

School girls in East Jerusalem. Source: AlJazeera

School girls in East Jerusalem. Source: AlJazeera

In order to enter university, an applicant must fulfill matriculation exams. By completing the Israeli matriculation exams, an applicant can much more easily apply for a higher education degree. The Israeli government recently set up funding for Palestinian schools that allow students the opportunity to take these exams, and in turn, encourage students’ eligibility to attend university.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority criticized this new beneficial program. While Palestinian residents, such as Abed who wants to advance herself academically and is happy to participate in Israeli society, the PA chooses to bad talk a program that can only increase opportunities for Palestinians.

Balancing between financial constraints and the many different ways to improve Israeli curriculums or encourage professional advancement in Israel, Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett has been leading many beneficial changes in Israeli education. Bennett and the Education Ministry is dedicated to improving education opportunities for all of Israel. As Bennett says, “we have to give the tools and build capabilities for all of our kids to have 21st-century skills” in order to succeed and that is the Education Ministry’s goal for all children in Israel, regardless of their community or origin.

Contributed by CAMERA Intern Penina Simkovitz.

Defending Israel On All Fronts: Joshua Seed Joins IDF

CAMERA Fellow Joshua Seed.

CAMERA Fellow Joshua Seed.

The last months of senior year are a daunting period. Filled with the pressures of life after graduation, applying for work, pursuing additional degrees, and finding a place to live, the uncertainties of the ‘real world’ have most seniors avoiding the dreaded question of their future plans. As a recent graduate of Binghamton University, this process is all-encompassing as my Facebook news feed and social circles discuss recent acceptances to master’s programs at prestigious universities and impressive job offers at Fortune 500 corporations.

The process unfolding around me has been viewed not as participant, however, but as an audience member, the enthusiastic fan at a sports game who knows he will never play in the big leagues. While I watch those around me complete the GRE and undergo job interviews, my year instead consisted of weekly visits to the gym, interviews with army officers, and intensive Hebrew learning. This summer I leave behind family, friends, and the familiarities of North American life as I make aliyah (Hebrew for immigration to Israel), building a new home in the Jewish state and enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.

Such a radical deviation from the ordinary path set before most college graduates naturally induces a number of questions. What are you running away from? What about your livelihood? How could you do this to your parents after all they provided you? The magnitude of the decision to leave the comforts of home and the communities that raised me to travel thousands of miles away and join a foreign army is not taken lightly or made hastily. In contradiction of those who challenge my appreciation for family and friends, the decision to make aliyah is made not in spite of these individuals, rather it is a lifetime dream that has been formed and nurtured through such people and the experiences they afforded to me.

Growing up in a home with a strong love of Israel and appreciation for Jewish education, the significance of the State of Israel to an often lachrymose picture of Jewish history became clear at a young age. Through the Zionism received from my parents coupled with formal and informal education about Israel at school and summer camp, I grew to understand just how remarkable was the Jewish return to Zion and the renewal of our people’s self-determination. Subsequent visits to Israel including a gap year after high school deepened this burgeoning relationship, opening my eyes to the country’s diverse people, who despite cultural and religious differences, built an open and vibrant society where personal freedom is championed and criticism is welcomed, if not encouraged.

Upon entering college, my relationship with Israel took yet another form as I sought to share my past experiences in Israel with fellow students through Israel advocacy work. As forces on campus attempted to disseminate misinformation about the Jewish state, I worked alongside a team of passionate students to present the true picture of Israel using the valuable strategies and resources that I received as a CAMERA Fellow. At its Annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference before the start of the school year, CAMERA trained its fellows to address and correct the lies often spread about the Jewish state on college campuses through letter writing and other mediums.

Students at CAMERA’s annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference, 2015.

Students at CAMERA’s annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference, 2015.

Training its fellows in Israeli history and current events through a range of prominent speakers along with a series of writing workshops to build opinion pieces geared toward campus publications, I left the conference with the skills necessary to convey our message effectively on campus, particularly in campus media. United by a common goal of sharing Israel’s story, the CAMERA on Campus staff as well as the new global network of CAMERA Fellows established at the conference became a powerful sounding board during my time in college, offering advice on how to tackle specific incidents such as biased professors or how to ensure that our limited words in an editorial piece are used most effectively.

Josh Seed(center) and other CAMERA fellows take a break at the 2015 CAMERA Conference, to visit Fenway Park.

Josh Seed(center) and other students take a break at the 2015 CAMERA Conference, to visit Fenway Park.

A precursor to my future plans to enlist in the IDF and defend Israel in a physical manner, the skills acquired at pro-Israel conferences and summits placed me in the trenches of Israel’s defenses on campus in the battle to shape college students’ perception of Jewish history. As Students for Justice in Palestine attempted to rewrite the establishment of the State of Israel and push a fictitious narrative surrounding Israel’s efforts to ward off decades of deadly terrorism, I together with other like-minded Israel advocates ensured that the truth was always easily accessible. When the anti-Israel group held a protest on the first day of classes condemning Israeli actions in Operation Protective Edge, a larger continent of Jewish students and their allies countered the libels by highlighting the party truly responsible for the summer’s bloodshed, the terror group Hamas. The hate and lies experienced during my time as a college student imbued in me a deep sense of responsibility for the Jewish state and her people which contributed greatly to my eventual desire to defend Israel as a soldier in her military.

At eighteen years old, Israeli teenagers are required to enlist in their country’s military due to Israel’s policy of conscription. Choosing to volunteer in the IDF as a 22 year-old American therefore comes as a shock to many Israelis who do not understand why one would trade the luxuries of the United States for an opportunity to be ordered around by a commander two years their junior. As surprising and unusual the choice may appear, my aliyah and enlistment in the IDF is a natural process, a decision made not in spite of those around me, but rooted in the very experiences and values taught by family, friends, Jewish education, and Israel activism. As I arrive in Israel today, I complete a chapter in my life 22 years in the making, fulfilling a dream of thousands of years of Jewish history to return and prosper in our ancestral land, the Land of Israel.

Contributed by CAMERA Fellow at Binghamton University Joshua Seed.