On the heels of a new national director and CEO of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Seth Baron has been promoted from executive director of the Southeast region of FIDF to executive director of a newly merged Eastern region, which includes the Southeast region and the Mid-Atlantic region. The merger is part of an expansion and restructuring of the FIDF executive office.
“The new CEO certainly wants to bring his vision to the organization and wants to expand messaging and reach more donors,” said Baron, who has served as Southeast region executive director of the FIDF for seven years. The goal, of course, Baron said, is to raise more funds to help more IDF soldiers.
Steven Weil, the new national director and CEO who started in mid-September, “brings a fresh approach, but the goal is simple,” Baron said. “How can we best utilize our resources?” Baron noted that the FIDF represents the Israeli army in both North America and Panama. “This merger brings together our resources in a more strategic manner.”
Baron acknowledged that, like other nonprofits, FIDF has been challenged since the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the United States earlier this year. “We cut our budget by more than 40 percent,” he said, attributing much of that reduction to the cancellation of in-person events and travel. “No one was laid off, but there have been proportional temporary salary reductions of 10 to 30 percent,” he said. He added that he hoped full salaries will be reinstated in 2021.
At the same time, “the needs of IDF soldiers have dramatically increased because of COVID,” Baron said. For example, the program that helps low-income soldiers has skyrocketed by 300 percent, he said.
COVID “has also brought a new face and expanded mission” for the IDF soldiers, Baron pointed out. The IDF has long been involved with humanitarian work around the world, most notably during earthquakes like the one that devastated Haiti in 2010. This year, IDF soldiers have worked, especially in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities in Israel, to distribute food and assist those struck by COVID-19.
Baron said that both the present and immediate past chiefs of staff of the IDF have designated FIDF as the army’s representative in the 20 offices in the United States and one office in Panama. The latter came about because a member of the FIDF national board has “strong ties with the small, tight-knit, Zionistic Jewish community” in Panama. In addition, “an Atlanta donor has a family member there. We’ve been doing work there for over 10 years,” although Baron said Panama falls under the Florida region.
His new region encompasses Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Delaware. “I was very fortunate that they asked me to take the lead of this merger of two great regions. This allows us to better use our resources, which is mostly people, as well as keep an eye on expenses. As a ‘Friends Of’ organization, our goal is to transfer as much money as possible to Israel.”
While Baron and the FIDF are watching their expenses, that doesn’t mean they’ve cut employment. He recently announced an opening for a director for the Georgia chapter “to backfill my position and focus on the day-to-day work. And we will be hiring additional people” nationwide.
The Boca Raton native shared how he grew up with parents – especially a father – who inculcated in him a love and concern for Israel. “We learned as much as we could about Israel” growing up, he said of himself and his late older brother. As a young boy not yet 8 years old, Baron, who had recently started competitive swimming, enthusiastically watched the 1972 Munich Olympics and multi-gold medalist Mark Spitz.
When terrorists attacked the Israeli athletic compound at the Olympics, Baron recalls his father telling him that he didn’t have to wear his Judaism on his sleeve, but that there would be days when he would need to stand up and be counted. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Baron asked his father if that was one of those times when he needed to stand up. His father answered, “absolutely.”
Baron’s first trip to Israel was in 1985 when he competed as a swimmer in the World Maccabiah Games. “That trip took my love and understanding of Israel” to a higher level.
Prior to working at FIDF, Baron served from 2007 to 2013 as both the Atlanta area director and the Southern states area director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).