When Allison Oreck, Shaina Gordon and Ben Levy heard about Friends of the Israel Defense Forces’ Young Leadership Mission to Israel, the Atlantans each grasped the opportunity to learn more about the IDF and increase awareness about the nonprofit FIDF’s multiple endeavors.

They were among nearly 60 Americans who joined IDF soldiers to tour navy and air force bases, gained an inside look at military activities, received security briefings from military officers, and explored Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from June 30 to July 9.

The mission included two former lone soldiers who live in California: Reeven Nathan, who served in a special operations reconnaissance unit, and Max Gordon, a former combat soldier in the Givati Brigade.

“I am a strong supporter of Israel and thought the mission was a great way to give back to the IDF as well as revisit Israel,” Oreck said.

Allison Oreck hands out ice cream to soldiers during IDF Appreciation Week.

She said she considers the soldiers’ camaraderie her fondest memory. “Everyone was very patriotic and formed a friendship based on their purpose and values, which I found very powerful,” she said. “It’s important to support Israel, and that goes for its military, which essentially serves as the country’s first line of defense.”

Shaina Gordon said she hadn’t known much about FIDF, “but as I discovered more, I became passionate about their work and the various programs they offered, which make it possible to help the soldiers and in turn protect Israel for Jews all over the world.”

Gordon also gained a better understanding of the IDF’s mission to protect lives. “The soldiers go in trying to save as many people as possible, and when they shoot, they shoot to injure, not to kill, unless it’s an extreme case,” she said. “These were things I was definitely not thinking about when I was 18, which is why it’s important to support the soldiers and make life easier for them if we can.”

Gordon noted the IDF’s resourcefulness. “I think that’s a part of Israeli culture, but I also got to see what the FIDF does for the soldiers, which is beyond impactful.”

Mission participants took part in Israel’s first national IDF Appreciation Week by handing out ice cream while listening to stories from soldiers.

Levy, who serves on the FIDF Southeast Region board’s executive committee, learned about the Young Leadership Mission at a conference in New York and grabbed the opportunity to learn more about what IDF soldiers go through.

“I wanted to not only meet the soldiers, but hear their stories and see how FIDF is helping them,” Levy said.

Ben Levy visits an IDF paratrooper.

FIDF’s support includes recreational facilities, flights home for lone soldiers and college scholarships for soldiers after their active service.

“We are always trying to do more than the year before, and if we can continue to build more gyms, more recreation facilities and send more soldiers off to college, that’s something we are always going to try to do,” Levy said.

“I am not serving in the Israeli military; however, I want to do my small part in whatever way I can because Israel means so much to me as a historical homeland and safe haven for Jews,” he said. “I encourage more people to look into FIDF mission trips, attend our events and listen to our speakers share their stories.”