The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Southeast Region recently welcomed new leadership to the table when Karen Shulman and Itai Tsur stepped into their new roles as chair and president respectively.
“Garry Sobel [FIDF chairman emeritus] has left huge shoes to fill, so it makes sense to split his role into two,” Tsur said.
Shulman first became involved with the organization in 2017 after attending her first FIDF gala.
“I was completely moved by the whole experience,” she said. “I told my husband that we were not leaving – however late it was – until I found whoever was in charge. I knew already that this was something I wanted to get involved in.”
She met with Sobel later that week and was off to a quick start with the organization she now chairs.
“I think he saw my passion for the organization already and it resonated with him that I wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said.
As for what impacted her most from FIDF programming, Shulman explained that it was an instinctual response.
“When I saw these soldiers on stage telling their stories, I kept thinking any one of them could be my child,” she explained. “As a mother I felt a responsibility to do what I could to take care of them as they take care of us.”
Tsur, born in Israel, served in the IDF after graduating from college. He is the fourth generation to serve in the military — dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. His grandfather served as head of military intelligence for the IDF and led the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, from 1963 to 1968.
“It wasn’t even a conscious decision for me. It was as natural as going off to college,” Tsur said. “It was only as I moved to Israel and thought about it more that I decided to serve in a combat unit.”
Tsur’s service would take him into Southern Lebanon, and he shared a story about the stresses that existed with the constant threat of life or death situations.
“I was the loader [in the tank], and one of my jobs was to pack up all the food for the night,” he said. “We were driving and I felt something hard and metallic hit me in the helmet and roll into the tank, so I figured, ‘ok someone’s thrown a grenade into the tank.’”
In his haste, he grabbed the object to try and throw it out of the tank before it could detonate, but realized, “It was a Diet Coke can,” he said. “It was some of the food that I’d packed and hadn’t secured properly. … It was kind of existential and terrifying for a couple of seconds.”
Those experiences while serving give him some firsthand knowledge of what those in the IDF today are experiencing, including lone soldiers, with whom the FIDF also works.
“Technically I may have been designated a lone soldier, but I didn’t have that same experience. I had family there and spoke fluent Hebrew,” he said. “But I saw the little things that they don’t have time to do, things like having someone to help with laundry, or the myriad bureaucratic things that need to get done, or just having a place to go for a Shabbat meal.”
While Tsur has served various Atlanta Jewish agencies, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Atlanta Jewish Foundation, he noted that his time in the military made the FIDF seem like a natural fit.
“I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and put some effort into continuing what has been started here,” Tsur said. “I’m aiming to spread the word about what the organization does and who it serves.”
As for goals for the future, Shulman explained t
hat broadening who is involved with FIDF programming is a big focus for the coming years.
“We want to make the FIDF more accessible for all ages,” Shulman said. “Some of the things we’re looking to do is get school-age kids involved, and also broaden out horizons outside of the Atlanta region. … New creative programming is going to appeal to a wider audience.”
The FIDF’s board welcomed a variety of new members, in addition to Shulman and Tsur: Ronnie Agami, Lauren Gershkowitz, Hope Kaufman, Sara Kogon and Joshua Spielman.
In addition, Tsur’s grandfather, the late Meir Amit, will be honored at the FIDF’s upcoming Legends and Heroes event Nov. 12. The event will feature a discussion of Amit’s life and contributions to the IDF.
“He was a key figure in the establishment of the state and the establishment of the IDF,” Tsur said. “This event is very personal to me, but independent of the fact that he’s my grandfather, I think we can educate people about some really fascinating chapters in Israel’s history.”
For more information on the Nov. 12 event, visit www.fidf.org/events/legends-heroes-idf-atlanta-ga-0.