Wednesday, Dec. 7, was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also proved to be a day to remember in Atlanta because retired Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir spoke at Mason Fine Art as part of the Friends of the IDF Legends and Heroes Series.
Shafir was one of the eight pilots selected for Operation Opera, Israel’s raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and he repeated the slogan, “The older we got, the better we were.”
Garry Sobel, who chairs FIDF’s Southeast Region, heralded Shafir as “a true hero for completing this secret mission.”
Sobel emphasized the region’s success and progress of the past four years.
“Our goal is for our soldiers to not feel alone,” he said. “Atlanta through our educational Impact Scholarship Fund ($16,000 for four years per soldier) has resulted in those recipients giving back 4 million hours of community service, the largest volunteer program in Israel. It’s unbelievably profound that we have supported so many soldiers and exceeded the $1 million mark.”
Board member Debby Bettsak said she’s happy to support two Impact Scholarship recipients.
The largest applause of the night went to Weber School graduate Zach Olstein, who is enlisting Sunday, Dec. 18, as a lone soldier in the IDF. “I made aliyah and want to serve to keep Israel safe,” Olstein said. “I believe in the Jewish state.”
Shafir, who is in the computer software business, is also a date and olive farmer. He still serves in the IDF reserve as an expert in safety missile testing and can be seen on CNN as a spokesman on emergency air force issues.
In telling the story of the Iraq raid, Shafir expressed the fear he felt about being the second youngest of the eight pilots and shared his doubts that he would ever make it back.
“Pilots share jokes but not emotions. There was no turning back. I told myself I was doing this as a tribute to my father, who immigrated from Vilna in 1935,” Shafir said.
He recounted the fear, sweat and stomach upset that are elements of such a mission, “like having 45 seconds to find the target.”
“Our biggest fear may not have been being killed or caught as a POW, but of our peers seeing the video of how we behaved under fire,” he said. “Note there are about 80 videos a day.”
Supporter Eric Seidel said: “The FIDF is the most wonderful organization I have been a part of. Once we got to Israel and talked to soldiers, we were so touched that our charity can connect and directly impact these innocent kids.”
Photos by Marcia Caller Jaffe