By Seth R. Baron | FIDF

In mid-September a record 5,500 Lone Soldiers — Israel Defense Forces soldiers with no immediate family in Israel — gathered at Israel’s largest water park, just outside Tel Aviv, for the largest-ever Lone Soldier Fun Day, a day of rest and recreation hosted by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in partnership with the IDF.

There are some 6,400 Lone Soldiers from 80 countries serving in the IDF today. Almost 900 of them are American, with 30 of them originally from Georgia.

FIDF Southeast Region Executive Director Seth Baron explains the commitment of FIDF and the Diaspora to Israel’s soldiers.

FIDF Southeast Region Executive Director Seth Baron.

The Fun Day is just the latest example of how FIDF cares for Lone Soldiers financially, socially and emotionally during and after their challenging military service. FIDF also sponsors flights for Lone Soldiers to visit their families and friends in their countries of origin. FIDF’s Lone Soldiers Program is one of its flagship initiatives — and a source of pride for the Atlanta community.

FIDF’s national director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, recently said: “The Lone Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, who choose to leave their lives behind and come to serve in the IDF with a strong sense of mission and mutual responsibility, act in the most noble way. It is an expression of solidarity and Zionism — and represents one of the greatest contributions of world Jewry to the state of Israel, both from those who come to serve and also from their parents who instilled these values in them.”

He added: “Military service brings numerous challenges and struggles, and without the support system of those closest to the soldier, it’s almost impossible to succeed. As a parent, I personally experienced many days of fear and worry. I ask myself how American parents must feel when their children serve in one of the most sensitive regions in the world, thousands of miles away from home, when they get information from the media about the situation in Israel. That’s why we are also committed to providing these parents of Lone Soldiers the necessary support.”

Besides caring for the well-being of Israel’s Lone Soldiers, FIDF initiates and supports many other educational and well-being programs for IDF soldiers. The Lone Soldiers at the FIDF Fun Day also received essential information about life after their military service, including information about the FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship Program, which grants college scholarships to Israeli combat veterans of modest means.

We in Atlanta and the Southeast proudly serve these brave young men and women. During the 2016-17 academic year, the Atlanta community is sponsoring 35 FIDF IMPACT! scholarships for IDF veterans to pursue their academic dreams.

Three years ago, as part of the FIDF Adopt-a-Brigade Program, the FIDF Southeast Region, which includes the Atlanta community, adopted the IDF’s Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, for which we have raised more than $925,000 — and hope to surpass $1 million before the end of 2016.

The program allows supporters to go beyond their donations and to get more involved, providing financial aid for IDF soldiers in need and their families, supporting Lone Soldiers, and funding general well-being activities and weeks of rest and recuperation for soldiers of the adopted brigade.

FIDF also recognizes the important need to think about the next generation and to recruit and cultivate future leaders. The FIDF Southeast Region’s Young Leadership, under the guidance of our development director, Jamie Perry, has seen tremendous growth the past two years and has become an essential part of FIDF’s success in Atlanta. Our Young Leadership Casino Night in Atlanta has become one of our flagship fundraising events for young professionals in the Atlanta community, and we continue to expand our programming throughout the year.

On behalf of FIDF, I wish you a good and sweet new year — shana tova.  Please help us wish the same to Israel’s brave men and women in uniform by signing our Rosh Hashanah card online at www.fidf.org/signthecard. For more information or to support FIDF, please visit fidf.org/Southeast, or call 678-250-9030.

Seth R. Baron is the Southeast executive director of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.