A group of 11-to-13-year-old siblings and children of fallen Israeli soldiers arrived in Great Neck on Friday, July 21, as part of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) Legacy program, which provided an opportunity for the Israeli children to step away from their bereavement and spend the summer like most kids their age.
“These brave children have been through so much,” said one FIDF supporter, who hosted the children at his home. “We wanted to show them how much we and FIDF appreciate the sacrifices their families have made. Bringing these incredible kids here to make lifelong friends, meet the community and share in the uniquely American experience of summer camp is a wonderful way to help them heal from their loss.”
Organized by FIDF, a nonprofit organization that offers educational, cultural, recreational and social-service programs to Israeli soldiers and their loved ones, the 16 children in the program were hosted by local families for the weekend. The participants celebrated Shabbat together and the hosts helped the children enjoy this unique opportunity.
“By going all the way to America, being surrounded by peers who have endured the same tragedy of losing an immediate family member, they are uplifted by the support and comfort of being understood, even without words,” said Liron Krietman, director of the Long Island FIDF branch. “Through visiting FIDF supporters and spending time in the community, we are sending them a vital message that the love and care for them stretches far beyond the borders of Israel.”
The children arrived on the peninsula as guests of Camp MJC, a summer day camp for the Mashadi Community in Great Neck. The children were treated to a Shabbat dinner with the host families and were invited to the United Mashadi Jewish Community in Kings Point for a Shabbat service, where they received blessings from community rabbis.
“Hosts, including myself, said they had the best Shabbat experience ever,” said Yoni Nitzani, an FIDF supporter who welcomed the children into his home. “Countless community members expressed gratitude on being given the opportunity to meet these children.”
The Israelis then journeyed to Manhattan to enjoy a tour of landmark sites.
Following the New York City sightseeing adventure, the children traveled to Camp Ramah in the Berkshires for the week, where they participated in recreational, artistic and religious activities that helped them bond with other Jewish campers. Their last stop of the program was in Deal, NJ, where they were hosted for Shabbat by local families and were treated to a concluding party before returning to Israel.
The FIDF has participated in similar bereavement programs in the past through the FIDF Legacy Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program. Numerous FIDF chapters nationwide have sponsored children and siblings of fallen soldiers to give them the opportunity to enjoy the summer with support from American communities. The FIDF also organizes programs within Israel to help raise money for medical care, infrastructure and education for soldiers.
With enthusiastic campers experiencing American culture while escaping bereavement pains, alongside supportive community members, the FIDF will continue to organize the Legacy Program within the tristate area for years to come.
“Our community welcomed these children, not with sadness and empathy due to their close loss, but with deep respect,” Nitzani said. “The community is interested in participating in this endeavor in the coming years.”