Above: Welcoming guest speaker Lt. Sivan Sisay are former lone soldier Kim Hertz, David Greene and IDF veteran Roey Shoshan (right).

Congregation B’nai Torah was the venue for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ presentation on “Atlanta and the IDF: How Our Community Embraces Our Soldiers” on Monday, Sept. 12.

Seth Baron, the FIDF’s Southeast director, outlined the three major thrusts of how Atlantans embrace IDF soldiers, including Atlanta’s 30 lone soldiers now serving in the Israeli military:

  • Provide Impact college scholarships for former soldiers to defray the $16,000 cost ($4,000 a year) for higher education. Atlanta currently pays for 35 ex-soldiers, and the goal by year’s end is to add two more.
  • Adopt a combat brigade. Atlanta has raised $925,000 toward a goal of $1 million by the end of 2016.
  • Support lone soldiers. “They should never feel alone,” Baron said. “There is no better investment than in these brave men and women.”

Garry Sobel, who chairs the FIDF’s Southeast Region and serves on the national board, spoke about going to Israel on 72 hours’ notice to meet with the night’s guest speaker, Lt. Sivan Sisay.news-fidf_3706

“I cleared my calendar and flew immediately to meet one soldier (through many winding villages) and saw our money at work,” Sobel said. “I was able to freely roam her camp base to see how Ethiopians are integrated into the IDF.”

Sisay, 21, a petite, pleasant uniformed soldier who was born in Israel to Ethiopian immigrants, then told her story. It took the audience a few minutes to absorb the series of her life’s hardships that she told with such calmness.

After making aliyah in 1991 by walking from Ethiopia to Sudan, then flying from Sudan to Israel, her family was placed in the Kiryat Gan Absorption Center and had to adjust to modern life (they previously didn’t have running water). When she was 11, her father killed her mother. He subsequently died from cancer.

Through the support of friends and teachers, she took courses to learn about Israeli society, finances and more. She served in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, arranging visits of important military delegations.

During her military service, her brother committed suicide, but she soldiered on in his memory. She has two sisters who are married.

Sisay’s story is one of triumph. “On Israel’s Independence Day, I was lucky to be one of the 120 soldiers who received the President’s Excellence Award. None of this would have been possible without the support I had as an Ethiopian and lone soldier from the FIDF.”

During the evening’s reception, Mark Olstein, whose son Zach is in Ulpan preparing for his stint in Garin Tzabar as a lone soldier, said: “Zach was inspired by the Weber School’s trip to Poland. I know he will stay safe and am delighted that his kibbutz family (through the FIDF) has already adopted him on weekends and Shabbat dinners.”

David Greene, whose son Avi, 18, just entered a pre-IDF yeshiva in Keshet, said: “In a way, he is living a dream of mine to serve, though I never directly stated that to him. I know the FIDF will take good care of him.”

Toba Kippen said: “My son Joseph completed three years as a lone soldier. I feel like these soldiers are all my own kids.”

Visit www.fidf.org/Southeast to get more information about the FIDF. The organization is running a mission to Israel from Nov. 11 to 18 that will include a live-fire training exercise with a tank battalion in the Golan.