Never Aloneby Alanna Berman January 1, 2014
By Alanna Berman
The San Diego chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces will host a Gala event this month honoring a few aspects of the organization’s work, including lone soldier programming. Israel’s Lone Soldiers are those whose family’s live abroad, and serve the State of Israel far from the comforts of home. Many of these soldiers chose to serve in combat positions, giving of theselves to ensure that Israel remains safe. In Israel and all over the world, the FIDF ensures these soldiers’ safety and comfort while they ensure the stability of the Jewish homeland.
Thanks to generous support to FIDF, lone soldiers serving in the IDF receive care packages, access to quality recreational facilities and support in arranging travel to see their families on a break from army service. Many volunteers make the work of the FIDF possible each year, and Carol Jensen is one such volunteer with the San Diego chapter of FIDF. Her son, Noah Rosen, is a lone soldier.
“Noah went on Birthright after finishing at the University of Oregon, and when he came home from the trip, he told us that he was going to join the IDF,” Jensen says, “We were in shock; it wasn’t something that had even crossed our minds, and when we asked him why, he said, with such empowerment and conviction, that ‘every young Jewish man who can serve, should serve, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t and that Israel was his home too, and it was his job to defend Israel.’
“After getting over the initial shock, I realized it was my job to ask how I could help.”
Jensen, who only learned about FIDF when she left her son in Israel to begin army training, turned to the local chapter to see what she could do to help. She has been a volunteer at FIDF San Diego for almost a year.
“It’s not easy to be a mother with a child in the IDF, but I am not alone, and thankfully, I have gotten to speak with other mothers in Israel and in the US about their experiences, and the FIDF is only a short phone call away,” she says.
“There is an extraordinary support system for all lone soldiers in Israel, run by a social worker, who communicates with the lone soldiers in any way that they can, but here, in San Diego, I have found great support in the FIDF and the people working in the office in San Diego, including some really great advice.”
Jensen assited the FIDF in organizing their most recent event, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a roaring ‘20s themed party to benefit IDF soldiers, held in October. She made phone calls to donors, vendors and FIDF staff to ensure that the evening was a success, and that the valuable work the organization did to assist soldiers like Noah, would go on.
“Its been an amazing experience for me to be involved with a community of families that give so much and understanding the importance of that is overwhelming in a lot of ways. There are a lot of amazing things that [FIDF does] for lone soldiers, and in my volunteer work with the San Diego chapter, I am really happy to do whatever I can to support the amazing organization.”
During the event, she was surprised and shocked to see that FIDF had flown Noah home for a few days to surprise her.
“It was a very emotional moment to see him there, she recalls. “At that point, we had had a really long break and it had been six months since I had seen him in Israel last. What amazed me, with all the involvement that I have in the organization, is that no one breathed a word of Noah’s arrival!”
This month, the San Diego chapter hopes to surprise a few more families when they celebrate downtown for their 4th annual Gala event. The lone soldier program will of course be one of the many highlights of the evening, with member os the IDF and supporters of FIDF in attendance together.
Alana Gaffen, a lone soldier currently serving in the IDF, hopes to return for the Gala if she can. Gaffen, who is a member of the Caracal Battalion, a combat unit where men and women serve side by side, says she remembers learning of the FIDF on her enlistment day.
“Even from the first moment that I drafted; on the first day that I went to get my paperwork, before I even got my uniform, there was an FIDF booth there,” she says. “It was the first night of Hanukkah, and there were people at the FIDF table handing out sufganiyot while we were picking up our paperwork. Since then, I have seen the FIDF people at every event that we have for lone soldiers in Israel, and they are always supporting us.”
Gaffen, whose family moved back to San Diego in April 2013, after living in a suburb of Kansas City for more than 10 years, was in town for the first time since enlisting in December 2012, last month.
“Since I have been back in San Diego, I have been learning more about the FIDF, especially since my parents have begun to get involved in the San Diego chapter,” Gaffen says.
She plans to attend college after her army servie, hopefully with the help of another FIDF program, Impact! which subsidizes the cost of a university education for IDF soldiers upon their release from duty.
Jensen says her son, Noah, hopes to do the same thing after his army service ends this year. And after supporting her son’s service in the IDF by volunteering with the local chapter of the FIDF, she says the changes in her son and in her family are extremely positive.
“Noah is very strong, and I have begun to recognize strength in him that I didn’t know was there, and in a lot of ways, it has rubbed off on his brothers, and it certainly has rubbed off on me,” she says.
“We are going back to Israel in a few weeks, and my second youngest will travel with me, but because of Noah, he is going on a birthright trip now too. And although this is my fourth trip to Israel, being in touch with my Jewish heritage has certainly made me more committed to my practie of Judaism. Seeing Israel with different eyes, and through Noah’s eyes has had a huge impact on us – we have always been spiritual people – but our connection to Israel is a thousand times stronger than it ever has been before.”
• The FIDF-San Diego Chapter’s 4th annual Gala will be held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 1 Park Blvd. Keynote speaker is Admiral (Ret.) Amihai “Ami” Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and former Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Navy. IDF speakers include: lone soldiers, a former Impact! student and wounded warrior. To register online, visit fidf.org/sandiego or contact the local FIDF office at (858) 926-3210 for more information.