Robert and Carol Summers shy away from praise and attention, but when it comes to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, they’ll do anything to support the cause.
So the husband and wife accepted the role of honorees at the ninth annual gala hosted by the nonprofit’s Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey chapter on Sept. 18.
“That fact that Carol and I have been picked to be the honorees is really a secondary thing in our minds. The real issue is the organization, not us,” Robert Summers said. “It’s not something we sought. If the goal is achieved of bringing more money and attention to the organization, we’d be thrilled.”
The FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to offer educational, cultural, recreational and social programs and facilities to IDF soldiers. Today, the organization has more than 150,000 supporters with 24 chapters across the U.S. and Panama.
More than 900 people are expected to pay tribute to the men and women of the IDF at the gala. The event will be hosted at Vie in Center City. It’ll begin at 5 p.m. with a cocktail reception, followed by dinner at 6:45 p.m. and a program at 7:30 p.m. Funds raised will go toward educational programs for IDF soldiers, wounded veterans and the families of fallen soldiers.
Robert Summers is a periodontist and Carol Summers is a former director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of American Friends of Hebrew University. They live in Gladwyne and have been married for 55 years. They have three children and seven grandchildren and have led several Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia trips, including Mission 1000, which Carol Summers co-chaired.
Their FIDF advocacy is rather new. A year ago, they were unfamiliar with the organization, but stumbled upon it last spring, when they got an email advertising an FIDF trip to Jerusalem for Israel’s 70th anniversary.
“And we were surprised, because once we learned about it and realized what they did, I was overwhelmed,” Carol Summers said. “These men and women are the future of Israel. And the more prepared they are to enter life, the more successful Israel will be.”
The couple went on the trip and came home as FIDF advocates. They spread word of the nonprofit to friends, family and acquaintances. Robert Summers even told his patients about the organization. They have hosted Israeli soldiers in their home, too.
“Just think of what would have happened if Israel lost one war since 1948,” Robert Summers said. “It’s not like baseball — you can’t be 5-1. You have to be 6-0.”
The Summers have contributed to FIDF programs like the IMPACT! scholarship, a program that grants four-year academic scholarships to IDF soldiers from low socioeconomic backgrounds, enabling them to pursue higher education.
“There’s a misconception that because there’s so much news about Israel being prosperous, that everyone’s prosperous,” Robert Summers said. “The people who serve in the IDF are from all strata of the Israeli population. And many of them do not have (the financial ability) to actually seek higher education; it’s just not possible. So the IMPACT! scholarship program really does fill a void.”
Tzvia Wexler, executive director of the local FIDF chapter, said for the Summers, the first “F” in FIDF doesn’t stand for friends, but for family.
“We’d like to honor them because they are incredible,” Wexler said. “They walk with their hearts. They don’t walk with their heads when it comes to the soldiers. And when I saw their commitment and support and love to the IDF soldiers, immediately I thought this was the people I’d like to honor, and that’s what we did.”