During a recent visit to the Capital Camps and Retreat Center in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, Henry M. Rosenbaum, director of the Baltimore chapter of Friends of the IDF (FIDF), met a 13-year-old Israeli named Noam. The teen was wearing a t-shirt bearing the photo image of a handsome young man. “Thinking it was a well-known Israeli sports personality or singer, I asked him in Hebrew whose picture it was,” said Rosenbaum. “He told me, with a sad look on his face: It was his deceased brother who died a couple of months ago during his IDF service.”
Rosenbaum was visiting the camp along with members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of FIDF and leadership from the organization’s LEGACY program. FIDF is a national organization that funds educational, recreational, and social services programming and facilities in Israel and abroad as a show of American support for the Israeli armed forces and all they do for the Jewish state and the Jewish people. FIDF LEGACY, in turn, supports thousands of widows, orphans, siblings, and other family members of fallen IDF soldiers through a variety of recreational activities, financial support, and life-cycle celebrations. This year, the FIDF LEGACY Summer Camp Program sponsored 14 teens who have lost a parent or sibling to attend an 11-day camp experience at Capital Camps, followed by a weekend in the Baltimore Jewish community.
At camp, participants spent time with their American peers and took part in traditionally American camp activities, like swimming, archery, rock climbing, and arts and crafts, along with Israeli dancing and Jewish learning. Four counselors who have experienced similar tragedies and one active-duty commander from the IDF Casualty and Wounded Department accompanied the children to help provide comfort and guidance.
“These brave children have been through so much,” said Jenn Goldmeier. Goldmeier, who co-chaired the FIDF LEGACY Program in the Mid-Atlantic Region with Barbara Berg, also hosted some of the teens in her Baltimore home. “We wanted to show them how much we and FIDF appreciate the sacrifices their families have made. Making lifelong friends, meeting the community, and sharing in the uniquely American experience of summer camp is a wonderful way to help these inspiring kids heal."
Rosenbaum coordinated the program at Capital Camps for FIDF LEGACY as well as the hosting arrangements for the weekend, and hosted participants in his home as well. “The youngsters and their IDF counselors were surprised but delighted to experience and learn that American Jews care so much about Israel and the soldiers who defend her,” he said. “They bonded with their hosts and saw first-hand that Jews in America truly feel a kinship with Israelis and care deeply about the future of Israel.”
Recalling Noam’s withdrawn demeanor at camp and contrasting it with the smiling teen horsing around just five days later in Baltimore, Rosenbaum said he felt Noam “clearly benefited from the camp experience and being in a situation where he understood that people cared about him.”
“The program creates very real, concrete connections between the Israelis, the host families, and the American Jewish campers at Capital Camps,” he added. “At the end of the day, there is a bond that is formed that transcends language and cultural differences, leaving both sides with the realization that our fates are intertwined and we are family.”
Alvin and Risa Schuster from the Owings Mills community of Baltimore hosted two boys and a female commander for the weekend. The boys, Ido and Sahar, each lost brothers who were IDF soldiers, and Cmdr. Lee Fellus was the casualty counselor in charge of the 14 children who attended the program.
“It felt like we knew them for a long time. They made you feel like you were old friends,” said Alvin.
“She is an amazing 28-year-old woman,” said Risa of Fellus. “All the kids have emotional scarring from what happened to their siblings ... [Fellus] was so well loved and respected by everyone.”
“We don’t want Israel to feel isolated and we want them to know that we are all brothers and sisters,” said Alvin. “Good times or bad, we will always be united with Israel.”
By Kami Troy
Kami Troy is the senior editor of Kol HaBirah.