Brig. Gen. Yitzhak “Jerry” Gershon’s first reaction when approached about a job opportunity as the national director of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces was to turn down the interview.
Although he was retiring from the IDF and needed to find work, he felt the nonprofit world wasn’t for him. “I don’t like to … ask people to give money,” he said.
His turning point came about three and a half years ago, when he traveled to Westchester, Conn., as the keynote speaker at an FIDF event.
At the end of the evening, an old man came up to him and hugged him suddenly.
“You don’t know what it’s like for me to hug an Israeli general,” Gershon recalled the man saying. “I was a kid in the middle of the street in [Nazi-occupied] Poland. … Thank God today we have the IDF and the state of Israel.”
Gershon accepted the position and hasn’t looked back.
The New York-based FIDF provides aid and benefits to the soldiers fighting to defend Israel. Programs include college scholarships; bereavement support for families; money to families that can’t afford to lose a family member’s income when he/she joins the army; and support for lone soldiers, those who have no immediate family in Israel but immigrate there and join the IDF.
In the last 10 years, 6,000 Israeli soldiers have received college scholarships through FIDF.
FIDF opened its first Arizona office in Phoenix on Jan. 1, run by Regional Director Jerami Shecter, who previously served as a donor relations officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and as Wall Street area director for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). She lived in Israel from 2007-2010; her husband, Nir Peled, was an IDF officer for seven years.
In her first year in her new role, Shecter said, community outreach is more important than fundraising.
“[We need] to get the word out that we’re here and educate people on what FIDF does,” she said. “That’s my first goal, to get a critical mass of people who care about the organization and who ultimately, yes, will support the organization, but the fundraising part does not come before the relationships.”
Contact Shecter at jerami.shecter @fidf.org or 602-388-8344 or visit fidf.org.
Adapted from an article in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, where Josh Sayles is a staff writer.