November 19, 2018

Moving & Shaking: ADL, Chai Center Events; Beit T’Shuvah Marathoners

From left: Rich and Sam Wildman, Michael and Kami Stone, Cory Garson, Rabbi Becky Hoffman, Temple Kol Tikvah Rabbinic Intern Elana Nemitoff, Kol Tikvah Rabbi Jon Hanish and Kol Tikvah Cantor Noa Shaashua celebrate Kol Tikvah at the congregation’s gala event. Photo by Rebecca Schulman.

Temple Kol Tikvah held its annual “Magical Evening” gala honoring several of the Reform community’s members on Feb. 24 at its campus in Woodland Hills.

More than 250 guests attended the soldout event, which included dinner, cocktails, dancing and roaming magicians.

The evening’s honorees were Cory Garson, who received the Kehillah Community Award, and Simona and Rich Wildman, who received the L’dor V’dor Award. The Young Adult Leadership Award recipients were Kami and Michael Stone.

“Our honorees’ accomplishments and dedication continue to make a huge impact on Kol Tikvah and on the greater Jewish community,” said Kol Tikvah Senior Rabbi Jon Hanish. “The magic of their kindness inspires all of us.”

Kol Tikvah clergy in attendance included Rabbi Becky Hoffman and Cantor Noa Shaashua.

The event’s co-chairs were Bunny Getz, Melissa Shenkin Saunders and Rachel Rapport.

Garson has served several key roles at Kol Tikvah, including temple president and vice president of membership. She was on the board of trustees for several years.

The Stones became members in 2013 while searching

for a preschool for their daughter, Charli. Kami began volunteering in the preschool and has been a part of the education fundraiser committee every year. Michael worked with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to acquire a federal grant for Kol Tikvah to upgrade its security systems.

The Wildmans — who also recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary — became members in 1996 and consider their greatest joy to be their commitment to volunteering and the temple, according to the synagogue’s website.

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and Anti-Defamation League Sherwood Prize honoree Marino Gonzalez, a sergeant with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department who was promoted from deputy sheriff since the award was announced, attend the annual ADL Sherwood Prize luncheon on March 13. Photo courtesy of Anti Defamation League.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) honored law enforcement personnel for combatting extremism, bigotry and hatred at the Helene and Joseph Sherwood Prize for Combating Hate luncheon on March 13 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Recipients of the prize, which was founded in 1996 to recognize law enforcement personnel, units and programs, were Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Marino Gonzalez, Laguna Beach Police Department Cpl. Cornelius Ashton, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Section and the Palm Springs Police Department’s Investigations Bureau.

“This year’s honorees have made creative and effective contributions to the fight against hate,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest region. “The common thread shared by all the honorees is their work with the many diverse groups that make up the population of Southern California.”

The ADL recognized Gonzalez for working toward restoring public trust in law enforcement in the mostly migrant community of Cudahy in southeastern L.A. County. In his acceptance speech, Gonzalez said that undocumented residents have “nothing to fear if they call [the] L.A. Sheriff’s Department.”

In a touching moment, Vasco Possley, a student who benefited from Ashton’s intervention after a hate crime, spoke about how Ashton made him “feel safe.”

David Sherwood, grandson of the couple who founded the award that bears their names, spoke on behalf of his grandfather, who turned 101 the day before the awards ceremony and was unable to attend. Addressing the assembled law enforcement personnel, including L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Sherwood said his family was grateful for “everything you do.” He closed by repeating the epitaph on a garage wall of a local police department: “Be smart, be safe, be fair and be back.”

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: Rabbi Mendel Schwartz, Chai Center Honoree Youval Ziv and Esther Schwartz come together at the Chai Center’s 30th annual banquet. Photo by Joe Silva.

The Chai Center, a Jewish outreach organization, held its 30th annual fundraising banquet on March 8 at the El Rey Theatre in the Mid-Wilshire District.

Hosted by husband and wife Rabbi Mendel Schwartz and Esther Schwartz, the event featured Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa as master of ceremonies.

The event opened with an art exhibition, “Venezia Ghetto, 500 Years,” by artist Sarah Singer. This evening’s honoree, Youval Ziv, CEO and managing director for real estate investment company Pacific Holdings, brought 50 of his friends to the event.

The Chai Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the Jewish community in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond with Shabbat dinners, singles parties, holiday celebrations, innovative High Holy Days services at the Writers Guild Theater, Passover seders, kabbalah classes and retreats. The Chai Center serves Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews from all backgrounds.

The Chai Center was co-founded by the late Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz — also known as “Schwartzie” — and his wife, Olivia Schwartz, the parents of Mendel Schwartz. Olivia serves as the organization’s co-director and Mendel Schwartz is its program and development vice president.

Suissa, in his remarks, described Schwartzie and dinner chairman and philanthropist Stanley Black as two people who never said no.

Black pledged an additional $25,000 toward Chai Center programing.

Beit T’Shuvah coaches Leslie Gold and Anna Johnson helped prepare Beit T’Shuvah residents and supporters for participating in this past Sunday’s L.A. Marathon. Photo by Justin Rosenberg.

Residents and supporters of Jewish rehabilitation organization Beit T’Shuvah, which serves community members suffering from substance abuse and other addictions, participated in the Los Angeles Marathon on March 18.

Every year, Beit T’Shuvah residents and supportive community members run the marathon as part of the Beit T’Shuvah program Running4Recovery, which raises funds for Beit T’Shuvah and serves a clinical function for residents of the center.

This year, 52 individuals — including residents, residents’ friends, Beit T’Shuvah staff and board members — participated and raised more than $100,000 for the organization.

“Running the marathon helps our residents on their road to recovery,” Beit T’Shuvah Director of Advancement Janet Rosenblum said in an email.

Among those running were Beit T’Shuvah Board of Directors Chairman Russell Kern, board members Samuel Delug and Susan Krevoy, and Rosenblum’s husband, Robert Rosenblum, who participated in a 26-week training program prior to the race.

Janet Rosenblum said Beit T’Shuvah developed Running4Recovery in 2009 as both a fundraiser and a clinical program. It has raised about $1 million over its nine years,

“We know that training for and completing a marathon helps residents on their road to recovery,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work to run or walk a marathon, and the program has been incredibly valuable to the residents who participate. It also brings out our board and other community members and becomes a shared experience for the entire Beit T’Shuvah community.”

From left: Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Executive Director Jenna Griffin; FIDF Young Leadership of L.A. President Zach Zalben; Amanda Mondre; Rebecca Sahim; Francesca Ruzin; Michael Spector; Chantly Geoulla; Jennie Arad and incoming FIDF Young Leadership of L.A. President Danielle Moses attend the FIDF Roaring 20s Old Hollywood gala at The MacArthur. Photo by Justin Kenderes.

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Young Leadership of Los Angeles (YL-LA) held its 10th annual L.A. Roaring ’20s Old Hollywood Gala on March 10 at The MacArthur special events venue in the Westlake neighborhood.

The event raised more than $500,000 in support of programs for the well-being and education of IDF soldiers and drew more than 1,100 young professionals from across greater Los Angeles.

The evening honored the legacy of Zev Karkomi, who was born in Ukraine and escaped the Holocaust before moving to Israel — then the British Mandate of Palestine — in 1941.  He fought for Israel’s independence as a member of the Haganah and later served as a captain of the IDF until 1958. He immigrated to Chicago in 1960, built a thriving business there and became a supporter of the FIDF, among other organizations.

Karkomi’s grandson, Ari Ryan, an FIDF national board member and Western Region vice president, co-founded FIDF YL-LA to continue his grandfather’s legacy.

“L.A.’s FIDF Young Leadership Division is more successful than ever,” Ryan, who chaired the gala for his 10th and final year, said in a statement. “Over the last decade, more than 6,000 young L.A. professionals have gotten involved through our events and helped us to raise much-needed funds to support Israel’s brave soldiers. I am so proud of what we have accomplished, and am humbled by the passion and desire to give back demonstrated by L.A.’s young professional community.”

Attendees included FIDF YL-LA President Zach Zalben; FIDF YL-LA board member and incoming president Jennie Arad; FIDF YL-LA executive board members Robert Roig and Michael Spektor; IDF soldiers, including a former Lone Soldier (one who serves in the Israeli military without immediate family in Israel); “Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles” cast member Josh Flagg and his husband, Bobby Boyd, who were gala sponsors; and FIDF Western Region Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

Headquartered in New York City, FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide for the care of IDF soldiers and the families of fallen soldiers. The organization has 20 regional offices in the United States and Panama.

Jews take up the Ice Bucket Challenge – and some choose hummus

Over the past month, a viral sensation has flooded the Internet: the ALS ice bucket challenge,  in which people post on social media videos of themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease colloquially known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The challenge — which requires anyone who undertakes it to nominate someone else — was inspired by a 29-year-old former athlete Peter Frates, who suffers from ALS. It has spread from his Boston peers to police chiefs, celebrities, and pop stars, helping the ALS Foundation raise millions of dollars. Not bad for what’s essentially a giant digital game of freeze tag.

Jewish celebrities — from Adam Levine to Mark Zuckerberg — have enthusiastically taken up the cause. (Appropriately enough, given that her name means “water” in Hebrew, actress Mayim Bialik also took up the challenge.  )

But the phenomenon moved into the political arena last weekend when Justin Bieber nominated President Obama to douse himself in ice.

Even without a personal invitation from the Bieb, pols in Israel have begun taking up the challenge. Two members of Knesset have videoed themselves speaking about ALS awareness, then succumbing to buckets of ice — probably just about tolerable in August in Israel.

Yesh Atid Knesset member Dov Lipman, in a full suit, announces in both Hebrew and English that he’s “bringing the challenge to the Knesset,” and challenges three other MKs to take part as well.

(At least one other MK, Eitan Cabel, has taken up the cause ).

Not to be outdone, the famously media-savvy Israel Defense Forces has tried to redirect some of the viral attention to its own cause — the ongoing battle with Hamas that has so far claimed thousands of lives.

26-year-old IDF soldier Corey Feldman and two peers decided to eschew ice entirely and create the “Hamas vs. Hummus” challenge. (In Israel, after all, the iconic chickpea spread is more plentiful than water.)

In a video, three IDF soldiers in full uniform smear their faces with hummus, nominating others (and offering the option of donating to charity Friends of the IDF instead, in case nominees are hummus-averse).

“Hamas is bad, hummus is good,” says one soldier astutely, his cheeks lathered beige.

It’s doubtful whether the Hummus Challenge will achieve quite the viral status that the Ice Bucket Challenge has. All controversy aside, one can only surmise that many IDF supporters would cringe at this scandalous waste of hummus – which obviously should be smeared on pita, not faces.

The two Israels: Balancing Israel of War and Israel of Peace

There’s been a lot of talk in our community lately about this notion of “balance,” particularly around the question of whether Israel supporters should balance their support for Israel with empathy for the enemy.

This is an important subject — balancing the love for our own people with our concern for the world at large. In times of war, as we’ve seen, this search for balance can get quite emotional and tricky.

But while we’ve been focusing so loudly on this particular balancing act, there’s another balancing act that I don’t think we’ve heard enough about.

This one is more introspective and inner-directed, and deals not so much with our enemies as with Israel itself.

It’s the balancing act between the Israel of War and the Israel of Peace. 

Between the Israel that is forced to fight to defend itself and the Israel that wants to live in peace and enjoy life.

Both Israels were on display the other night in front of an overflow crowd at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel.

On the surface, you’d think the night would be all about the Israel of War.

(In fact, in my case, the “war” started even before I entered the hotel, as I was greeted on the street by anti-Israel demonstrators shouting charming questions like: “Are you going to the war-crimes dinner?”)

Most of the evening, naturally, was dedicated to the IDF. We saw videos of heroic exploits on the battlefield and heard live and moving speeches from those very heroes. (One of the speakers lost an arm in an enemy attack and re-enlisted for combat duty after a long period of rehabilitation.)

Perhaps the most moving speaker of the night was an Israeli mother who lost two sons in combat. It wasn’t only her unspeakable grief that held the crowd. It was her unbroken spirit.

She embodied the two Israels.

Her unbroken spirit and defiance embodied the Israel that must defend itself in order to survive.

Her overwhelming grief embodied an Israel that longs for a day when Israeli mothers won’t have to hear the knock of army officials coming to announce tragic news.

Both Israels seemed embedded in the soldiers, as well. They were warriors, but they were also grudging warriors.

From the humble way they spoke, from their obvious love of life, what came across was that they fought because they had to, not because they wanted to.

It was timely that the event coincided with the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, which also can be said to embody the two Israels.

As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, the Chanukah story began as a simple story of a military victory, with the stunning success of Judah Maccabee and his followers as they fought for their religious freedom.

But after the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, there were rabbis who thought the holiday should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost?

Because, as Sacks writes, “Freedom may have been lost but hope was not yet lost.”

That’s how the miracle of the oil lasting eight days became the central narrative of Chanukah.

This is a narrative that was born in war and was reborn in light. 

It’s hard not to see the connection with modern-day Israel, a country born in war that has tried desperately to be reborn in light. 

The Israel of War has always made a lot of noise, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Israel is a tiny nation surrounded by enemies with no mercy, and it has to fight like the Maccabees just to survive.

But it’s fascinating to see how, despite all the wars, the Israel of Peace — the one that loves to celebrate life and help the world, the one that embodies the hopeful light of Chanukah — still hangs in there, trying to make noise of its own.

It’s that very Israel we saw near the end of the FIDF dinner, when a female Israeli soldier, backed by Hollywood impresario David Foster, got up to sing an American pop song that brought the house down.

As she sang, I couldn’t help thinking that this same girl might be fighting in a war soon, or might already have fought in one. There on stage was the living contradiction represented by the Israels of War and Peace — a singing soldier.

Maybe, then, this is the balancing act that American supporters of Israel should spend more time reflecting on. It’s a balancing act that is done not in America but in Israel, by a people trying to balance the need to fight with the love to sing, and the pain of grief with the will to live. 

Meet the IDF: Zina Milstein, 19, Infantry Unit 500, Infantry Instructor

A self-described “girly-girl” who loves dressing up, wearing jewelry and painting her nails, Zina Milstein surprised her family and friends when she insisted on going into an important Israel Defense Forces unit.

“A lot of people said that I couldn’t do it because the girls in these roles are really tough,” she said, laughing at the irony. “But I didn’t make aliyah by myself and enlist in the IDF to sit around guarding a peaceful border and making coffee for my superiors.”

Born and raised in New York, Milstein attended Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School until the eighth grade and then went to a public high school in Westchester. The youngest child and only daughter, Milstein has one older brother and four older step-brothers.

The summer before her senior year in high school, she went to Israel on the Chetz V’Keshet (Bow and Arrow) program, which gives tours to groups of Israeli and American youngsters interested in volunteering in the IDF or making aliyah. Milstein knew she wanted to make aliyah and wanted to serve, but she didn’t hear about the Garim Sabach program until that trip.

“It’s mainly for kids who have one Israeli parent, but there were a few other Americans like me, too,” she said. “We just had to work a lot harder to learn Hebrew.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionThrough the program, Milstein was able to spend her first three months on a kibbutz, taking intensive Hebrew courses in the morning and working in the orchards in the afternoons. Although she had a fair knowledge of Hebrew, she couldn’t speak the language well enough to serve in a regular IDF unit.

“I did my testing for the army on the kibbutz, and I didn’t score high enough to be in a combat unit because I’m allergic to bees, and I have asthma and scoliosis,” she said. “But I refused to take no for an answer.”

On her quest, Milstein visited at least 10 different doctors until she could raise herself up to a physical profile score of 72 — high enough to be in a unit that supports combat soldiers like the one in which she now serves.

“I was very Israeli about it, and once I got my profile score up enough, I went to the tryouts and passed the other tests,” she said.

In July 2007, Milstein was officially inducted into the infantry instructors’ unit. The first six months involved hard training.

“We have to understand what they’re going through and how they feel, so if the combat soldiers have to do 30 of something, we do only 15,” she said. “We know what’s it’s like to go for a week without showering and having to carry your pack until you’re exhausted.”

Last summer, after seven months of rigorous training, she began officially teaching soldiers how to be snipers.

“I got mixed reviews,” she said, regarding her family’s response to her IDF position

Training a sniper, according to Milstein, is different than any other weapons-training course. “You have to teach a person how to think, breathe and act like a sniper,” she explained. “It’s not about just knowing how to use a weapon.”

With nine months of compulsory service left, she has no regrets and plans to stay in Israel after the IDF to study dance and psychology. A former dancer, she’d like to eventually go into dance therapy.

“I wanted to do something in the army, not just sit around,” she said. “I get phone calls from soldiers after missions calling to tell me they killed a terrorist and to thank me for the good training. It feels good to know I’m making a difference.”

Meet the IDF: Ido Niv, 21, Maglan Elite Combat Unit

Ido Niv grew up in a typical Israeli home. A second-generation sabra, he comes from a long tradition of military service.

His grandfather was a Holocaust survivor in Poland who made his way to Israel after World War II and later served in the Golan Heights. Niv’s father served in a tank unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

In 1998, Niv’s older brother, Lior, began his compulsory military service in a paratrooper unit near the Lebanon border. On the night of Jan. 31, when Lior was 21 years old and serving as a first sergeant, his IDF post was attacked. The station Lior was guarding that night was bombarded by heavy fire and rockets, and he and two others were killed instantly by a missile.

“I’ll never forget the day they knocked on the door to tell us Lior had been killed,” said Niv, who was 12 at the time. “It was just me and my mother at home. It changed our lives forever.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionFour years later, Niv announced to his parents that he wanted to serve in a combat unit. According to Israeli law, any bereaved young soldier who commits to serve in a combat unit is required to have his parent’s approval, as well as the state’s.

“My parents didn’t want me to do it, and it took a while to convince them,” he said.

For two long years, he fought for the right to enter a combat unit.

“I had the option of taking a light service next to home, getting coffee for the commanders,” he explained, “but I wanted to serve my country. It was a strong feeling for me.”

Eventually, Niv’s parents capitulated and allowed him to take the rigorous physical and mental exams required by the IDF to enter an elite combat unit. In 2005, he was accepted into the Maglan unit, where he completed his compulsory three-year service in November.

“I wanted to be in Maglan because it’s one of the best units,” he said. “But the army basically decides where you go. You don’t have a lot of choice after you pass the exams.”

A day never passes for Niv without thoughts of Lior and what he has lost, but for Niv, serving his country is the most natural thing in the world.

“It changed our lives forever, but when I went into the IDF, the wound was no longer fresh,” he explained. “It becomes a part of you, and you always wonder what he [Lior] would have done after the army, if he would have married and had children, but you learn to live with it.”

During his service, which he is under strict orders not to discuss, Niv often thinks about his brother and what he experienced.

“He was my age now when he was killed,” Niv said, his bright blue eyes shining.

Today, dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of baggy blue jeans, it’s hard to imagine him as a highly trained soldier, carrying a gun and defending his country.

“I opted to stay for another year in the same unit,” said Niv, who had just completed his compulsory service.

When asked what that will entail, a big smile crossed his face and he replied, “Pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing up until now, but with a lot better pay.”

After an extra year as a “career soldier,” Niv plans to travel throughout South America with friends and then return to Israel to study.

“I don’t really know what I’ll study yet,” he said. “I’ll come back from the trip in a few years and see what happens.”

Meet the IDF: Shimon Siso, 23, Golani Infantry Brigade

Born in Nahariya, a few kilometers from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Shimon Siso dreamed of one day being a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade.

“Everybody in school wanted to be in that unit because it’s the best. I wasn’t the only one,” he said, taking his weapon off his shoulder and placing it gently on the floor.

Dressed in the traditional olive-colored uniform with two stripes on his shoulders and wearing a pair of black boots, he looked younger than his 23 years.

“I was named for my uncle,” Siso said, explaining that his mother’s brother was killed in 1982 by Hezbollah while serving in the Golani. “He was a captain, and he was the only one who stepped out of the tank to look and was killed. Because of that, my mom didn’t want me to serve in this unit, but she eventually agreed.”

In November 2004, Siso was accepted into the Golani’s basic training program. “It’s a difficult unit, because for the first year, every four months they kick people out who aren’t suited for it,” he said.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionAfter eight months in an officer training program, Siso was sent to serve in the Gaza Strip, where he was a commander for seven and a half months. One night under cover of darkness, he and the soldiers in his unit were sent to infiltrate the home of a wanted terrorist and take him into custody.

“The terrorists send missiles into Israel from schools in highly populated areas, so we have to go into their homes to get them without hurting innocent passersby or children,” he said. “We usually succeed in our missions, but we sometimes have to give up the lives of our soldiers in order to do it.”

By the time the Golani unit under Siso’s command had captured the terrorist, the sun had come up. They were waiting inside with him until night fell again to leave, when three terrorists came to one of the doors of the house’s lower level. The terrorists surprised them by firing an anti-tank missile into the room. Siso was upstairs on the second level when the explosion erupted below, stunning the soldiers under his command.

“I ordered all of my soldiers to come upstairs. Most of them were in shock and lightly wounded,” he remembered. “Then I heard the medic call out that he has a serious injury, so I went downstairs.”

He sent the medic and the heavily wounded soldier upstairs and decided to go around the building alone to stop the terrorists, even though he had no idea how many there were or what other weapons they had.

“They were shooting into the building through the second door, so I knew where they were,” he said. “I came around the side and killed them.”

His act of bravery saved the lives of the remaining soldiers in the house that day, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, which he proudly wears on his uniform. “It has an olive branch over a sword to signify that Israel wants peace, but we are ready to go to war,” he said.

Siso, who is currently a lieutenant, went to New York last October with a group of fellow soldiers to tell his story, thank the Jewish federations for their support and explain to young Jewish Americans what it’s like to serve in the IDF.

“I want to say thank you to the American groups that support us,” he said. “We just spent a week in Ashkelon at a hotel with a pool relaxing, and one federation sent us gym equipment and a Torah. Their support helps.”

Siso lost one soldier in the Gaza operation, and his best friend in the Golani was killed when a group of Hezbollah terrorists fired a missile at their base. Partially because of the people he has lost, he decided to serve another five years in the army, two of which will be spent in classes and the remaining three he will serve as an officer.

“I will probably serve five more after that,” he said, a wide smile lighting up his big brown eyes.

“I have a mother and a father who go to work every day, and I have two younger brothers and a younger sister who go to school freely. I do what I do so that they and my children and grandchildren can live in peace as Jews in Israel. I’ve lost friends who gave up their lives for this. This is my path.”

Leo David: From Israel soldier to soldiers’ friend

Leo David likes to think big.

Shortly after he founded the Western regional branch of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in 1981, he started planning for the initial dinner gala and scouted for some appropriate entertainment.

He flew to Las Vegas, twisted the arm of Sammy Davis Jr. and for good measure, also enlisted Bill Cosby.

The party on the 20th Century Fox lot was a big success.

For David, the idea of making the lives of Israeli combat soldiers a bit more pleasant wasn’t much of a stretch. All he had to do was to think back to his own service as a 22-year-old in the War of Independence.

“I fought in a tank unit, though we didn’t have any real tanks in the beginning,” he reminisced during an interview in his well-appointed condo in a Westwood high rise. “So we got some trucks, attached some armor plating and called them tanks.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionToward the end of the fighting in 1949, David sustained a severe foot wound.

David came from a relatively affluent family, which had left Germany in late 1933, but most of his comrades, like most Israelis at the time, were quite poor.

“They had no money for recreation or an evening off base, so once a month, I’d take them all out for a kumsitz [the Israeli combination of bull session, sing-along and barbecue],” he recalled.

During his 82 years, David has lived through quite a slice of history, has made a lot of money and has given a lot of it away.

“I’ve never worried too much about money, because I thought I could always make more,” he said.

David was born in Dusseldorf in western Germany, the youngest of three sons of a prosperous shoe factory owner.

Unlike many other German Jews, the father immediately recognized the danger signals when Hitler came to power in 1933. He left with his family later that year for Holland and in 1934 moved to Palestine, where he bought a farm and orange grove.

Young David studied at a religious school, but in 1943 the adventurous 16-year-old joined the Palmach, the elite unit of the nascent underground army.

“It was training all the time, with nothing else to do,” David said, so after four months, he switched to Lehi, also known as the Shtern Group, to see some action.

Although David was not particularly interested in politics, the switch meant a move from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum then. Lehi was the most militant and extremist of the Jewish underground forces, battling the British mandatory authorities relentlessly and, in turn, hunted down by the police.

In 1948, when Israel declared its independence, David and his fellow Lehi fighters became part of the country’s regular Haganah forces.

With the war over, David studied to become a diamond cutter and, with the family’s resources behind him, became the owner of a diamond factory.

However, by 1956, he was ready to move again. Describing himself as “politically on the right,” David “didn’t like Israel’s ‘socialist’ government,” sold his Israel diamond factory and started a new one in New York.

There he met and married his lifelong partner, Ruth. Together they moved to Los Angeles in 1959. He studied home construction and soon became a major builder of homes and apartments.

When the industry took a downturn in 1963, he switched again to manufacturing cassettes and speakers for car radios. From that base he established a chain of Leo’s Stereo stores.

In 1978, he put up some money to open a Los Angeles office for the Friends of the IDF and pledged to underwrite all the organization’s office and administrative expenses.

“In the beginning, we had 10 board members, all Israelis, but now our region is active from San Francisco to San Diego, and we are training a new generation of leaders,” he said.

Asked whether he was now retired, David bristled.

“I currently run 10 different businesses,” he said, including developing shopping malls, manufacturing electronic equipment, real estate, making and distributing clothes and, as a true Angeleno, producing TV commercials and movie features and trailers.

ALTTEXTAll that activity leaves him little time for his hobby, golf, but he makes it a point of visiting Israel once or twice a year.

The trips to Israel give him a chance to inspect some of the facilities supported by Friends of the IDF and to meet with a new generation of Israeli soldiers and airmen.

“We first got involved when the commanding officer of the Ramon Air Force base asked whether we could help support a small sports club where the men could work out in their free time,” David recalled.

From there, the program expanded to other bases and to such facilities as libraries and auditoriums for movies and live performances.

Since most Israeli men and women start their military duties right after finishing high school, they need to learn civilian skills after their army discharge. To help them, Friends of IDF subsidize college costs by providing for their living expenses during their studies.

“What we need to understand is that most of the youngsters in the service come from relatively poor homes and that the army provides them only with food and uniforms,” David said. “There are no extras or luxuries.”

Photo: Leo David with IDF soldiers during Friends of the IDF 60th Anniversary Mission last May. Photos courtesey Leo David

Friends of the IDF (FIDF) gala to honor 30 soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces


When the local Friends of the Israel Defense Forces join for a gala dinner on Dec. 11 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the guests of honor will not be a few major donors or civic dignitaries but 30 Israeli soldiers.

“We never honor an individual, only a group of soldiers,” said Leo David, founder of the organization’s Western regional branch.

The soldiers, male and female, serve in different combat units, and each has lost a relative in war or through terrorist attacks.

They will be hosted for a week by Friends of the IDF (FIDF) as part of its Legacy Program, one of the national organization’s many activities to provide some enjoyment and recreation for Israel’s defenders.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionWith Israeli resources strained to assure quality training and equipment for the army, navy and air force, the mission of the FIDF and its Israeli counterpart, the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, is to provide the extras and comforts to relieve the daily pressures of combat service.

The projects include building recreation clubs, sports centers, synagogues, swimming pools, theaters and libraries. In addition, there are scholarships for veterans, packages for wounded soldiers, financial aid and summer camps for families of fallen soldiers and wide-ranging cultural programs.

Friends of the IDF is the American partner of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, an independent, non-profit organization that supports social, educational and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel.

The Association is the outgrowth of the Committee for the Welfare of Soldiers, founded in 1942 by David Ben-Gurion. The committee’s first order of business was rounding up donations of blankets for the pre-state settlement’s fledgling Jewish Brigade.

The association is not subsidized by the government, the Israel Defense Forces or any other body.

Through Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, the association receives funding and other support to carry out its programs. FIDF support includes building, maintaining and operating 17 modern and sophisticated facilities, establishing and renovating hundreds of clubrooms and fitness rooms on IDF bases, and caring for IDF soldiers through a variety of programs.

The Wounded Soldiers Program assists hospitalized soldiers, wounded during terrorists’ attacks, operational activities and other circumstances.

The soldiers receive help with such items as personal kits, laptops, cable television, personal and hygiene items, access to armored ambulances, medical simulators, medical transportation vehicles and respiratory devises.

According to FIDF, there are between 14,000-20,000 hospitalized soldiers every year in 15 hospitals in Israel.

The SPIRIT Program provides rest and relaxation facilities to Israel’s combat battalions and units. Combat soldiers spend a week at these FIDF-funded facilities, which offer all-inclusive meals and snacks, Air-conditioned rooms with cable TV, swimming pools and saunas, interactive games and dance halls, movies, internet and live performances.

Over 13,500 soldiers benefited from the SPIRIT Program in 2007.

FIDF programs also include mobile gyms, which allow Israeli soldiers and sailors to stay in shape.

Recently initiated is the Adopt a Battalion program, in which an individual or group supports one of the IDF’s 130 combat battalions for a three-year period.

At a cost of $25,000 a year, the program underwrites special breaks in the training and fighting routine, such as fun day at a recreational facility, sports day, or a celebration marking the end of the 18-month training period.

Other special events honor outstanding soldiers or marking Rosh Hashanah and Passover observances.

Donors receive regular reports and photos on the progress of the adopted battalion, opportunities to meet with soldiers, and, after three years, a plaque certifying the donor as an honorary member of the battalion.

The Lone Soldier program provides hospitality and support services to the thousands of Israeli soldiers who have no family in Israel.

The FIDF also provides services to the families of soldiers who have fallen in defense of Israel — nearly 3,000 bereaved individuals benefit from these programs, according to the organization.

Since the state’s founding, some 22,500 Israeli soldiers have died in line of duty, and the Legacy for Fallen Soldiers program tries to lighten the burden of the bereaved families.

The program provides vacation and recreation weeks for the widows and children, summer camps for kids, trips to the United States, and special help for bar and bat mitzvah celebrations.

Legacy offers the bar and bat mitzvah age children of fallen soldiers a 10-day visit to the United States, where they are hosted at local summer camps and travel around the United States. FIDF sponsors all costs, including flights, camp fees, accommodations and entertainment.

Soldiers who continue to serve their country while overcoming the loss of a family member killed in action can also participate in FIDF’s Legacy program, which brings both male and female active-duty soldiers to the United States for a period of 10 days. The soldiers can have fun, relax, visit major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, and connect with local Jewish communities. They also have the opportunity to interact with other group members who have also experienced the loss of a family member.

And 30 of these Legacy program soldiers will be the honored guests at FIDF’s Dec. 11 gala.

The event will also include music by David Foster, featuring Lionel Richie, Katharine McPhee and Charice, with media mogul and philanthropist Haim Saban, and his wife, Cheryl, serving as dinner co-chairs.

For more information, contact FIDF Executive Director Miri Nash at (310) 305-4063 or e-mail

Photo: Women of the IDF