Benefit for Israeli Soldiers Draws Wolf, Casey

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A crowd of congregants, community members and Israeli and American soldiers gathered at Congregation Mikveh Israel on May 12 to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 68th birthday, and to pay tribute to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

A crowd of congregants, community members and Israeli and American soldiers gathered at Congregation Mikveh Israel on May 12 to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 68th birthday, and to pay tribute to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The event was co-hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a nonprofit founded in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors that offers support to members of the IDF and their families.
At 7 p.m., attendees — a number of them speaking in Hebrew, some wearing military uniforms — filed into the main sanctuary, quickly filling the pews, while a band played and TV outlets set up their cameras. Israeli and American flags flanked a podium with an FIDF banner on it.
The ceremony began with the American national anthem sung by four young people — Raisa Griffith, Jessica Edwards, Chesta Davis and Maurice Devose. Then Kesher Israel cantor Adam Gilbert came up to sing “Hatikvah,” which had most of the crowd singing along.
The evening’s first speaker was FIDF Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey Executive Director Tzvia Wexler, who set the tone by saying the evening was about ensuring “a free independent state that not only survives but thrives. … Tonight, we salute all soldiers who put their dreams on hold and stand guard.”
After Wexler came FIDF national board member Israel Roizman, wearing a China blue suit, who lightened the mood with a joke and a lighthearted approach to geopolitics: “Today is the 68th birthday of the state of Israel, and next month it’s the 69th birthday of mine, so somebody’s following somebody,” he said. “I know we [Israel] are making a lot of noise throughout the world and making a lot of trouble for every president of the United States, but it’s for fun, really.”
Then he got serious: “We are the only democratic major country in the Middle East, and without the partnership of the United States and Israel, the whole area would be different.”
Roizman had strong words of praise for Sen. Bob Casey, who he called “one of the best friends we have in the Senate.” Casey sat next to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who spoke next.
Wolf said 1948 was a special year — the year he was born.
“The world needs a prosperous democratic nation in the Middle East — Israel is that nation,” he continued. “The IDF has done so much to make sure that the state of Israel not only survives but thrives through all the conflicts that Israel has been subjected to. It owes its very life and its very existence to the IDF.”
Wolf introduced Sen. Casey, who reminded the audience of key words from the 1948 Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel: “It will be based on freedom, justice and peace.”
“On a day like today,” Casey said, “we should remember the commitment to those principles.”
He talked about going to Israel for the first time 11 years ago, and seeing an inscription on the façade of a schoolhouse. It was a passage from Zechariah that read: “Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.”
Casey was struck by the prophetic nature of the inscription.
“Today, we have an obligation, especially those who hold federal elected office, to make sure that that ancient prophecy by Zechariah is fulfilled,” he said. “As Americans, we pledge anew to do our part every day to ensure that in all of Israel’s tomorrows, Jewish boys and girls will play in her streets.”
Guest speaker Sarah Schorr — born in Haifa to a Holocaust survivor — emigrated to the U.S. when she was 12. She married an American and had two children, one of whom developed a passionate devotion to her homeland.
Her son Eric’s dream was to join the IDF but he was disqualified for medical reasons. So he went to Columbia University, where he was a vocal pro-Israel activist, and then got a master’s degree. When he regained his health, he applied to the IDF again. Now, at 27, Eric is in the IDF officer training corps.
“I have many mixed emotions about my lone soldier,” Schorr said, but she added that it comforts her to know the FIDF is providing material and moral support.
The evening’s proceeds benefited the FIDF Wounded Soldiers Program.
Contact: lspikol@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0747

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