Virginia is for (Israel) lovers. That is the view of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and why the New York-based organization plans to open a Virginia chapter after steadily making inroads in the state, especially in Northern Virginia where the majority of Jews reside.
Fairfax resident Ari Dallas was brought on board a year ago to facilitate the expansion of FIDF’s mid-Atlantic region chapter into Virginia. As director of development, he has spearheaded the FIDF Virginia initiative, making connections with synagogues and other Jewish institutions and fundraising. Last year the initiative raised more than $450,000 in Virginia, compared to $130,000 the previous year. Dallas said he expects the amount to increase this year.
“It has been arms wide open and absolutely an incredible reception we’ve had from the community in Northern Virginia,” Dallas said. “They embrace Israel but more importantly they are embracing the soldiers who are defending it on our behalf, and it has truly been special. Any program we’ve had has been oversold, and both from a volunteer and philanthropic perspective, support is growing every day.”
The Virginia chapter will include a full-time staff member and a board of directors. No date has been set yet for when the chapter will open.
Dallas said that the organization is also in the process of adopting a combat battalion of the IDF Nahal Infantry Brigade for the Northern Virginia community. Falls Church area resident David Roggen, who served with Nahal as a lone soldier, is chairing the initiative. They are more than a third of the way to meeting the fundraising goal of $90,000 that is required to adopt a battalion. Adopting a battalion provides an opportunity for the community to support the soldiers in it financially, socially and emotionally during their military service, and it lets donors follow the battalion’s activities and interact with the soldiers throughout the year.
Friends of the IDF recently co-sponsored a screening of the documentary Beneath the Helmet as part of the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival. The other sponsors included the JCC of Northern Virginia, George Mason University Hillel and the JCRC’s Israel Action Center.
It is the type of collaboration that Mason Hillel Executive Director Ross Diamond expects to see more of as FIDF increases its presence in Northern Virginia.
Said Diamond: “Our students are excited about the opportunity to have the resources that FIDF will bring to our community. At the same time we’re excited to be able to be a supportive part in the community collaboration.”