By Miriam Segal
Glenn Benson of Bethesda, Maryland, grew up in an ardently Zionist home, the son of South African immigrants who cared deeply for Israel. In high school he attended Jewish day school, participated in a B’nai B’rith Youth Organization summer trip to Israel, visited close relatives who’d emigrated from South Africa to Israel, and, as an adult working as a mortgage lender, supported his local Jewish Federation.
But about eight years ago Glenn, now 39, discovered a new passion – an exciting, different way he could devote himself to helping Israel.
Glenn was attending a charity golf event with Bobby Cohen of Potomac, Maryland. Cohen, today the National President of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), a not-for-profit started by Holocaust survivors in 1981 to provide educational, cultural, recreational and social programs for the men and women of the IDF, mentioned that FIDF’s Mid-Atlantic Region was launching a new chapter in Washington D.C.
“Something just clicked for me. It connected right away,” Glenn says.
For Glenn, FIDF represented a way he could directly support the very people who were defending the Jewish homeland.
“This idea, that if you can help people who are fighting for Israel’s security and freedom – I viewed it as not just Israel’s freedom, but Jews’ freedom everywhere,” he says.
In fact, Glenn felt so strongly that he began talking about FIDF with friends, and in 2017 they decided the best way to spread the word was by sharing the story of FIDF over latkes and vodka with their contemporaries.
The initial idea was not to just hold a one-off fundraiser, Glenn adds, but to generate “brand awareness” among perhaps 30 peers. He figured if he and his friends somehow gathered 100 others “it would be a big win.” Some 200 attended, and afterward many told him they were so excited they thought he should seek contributions for FIDF. Last year, Glenn and his friends not only organized a packed event, but attracted more than 30 families to join one of FIDF’s signature programs, the Adopt-a-Unit initiative, in which people directly support the humanitarian needs of the soldiers of a specific IDF brigade or battalion.
Those types of FIDF programs, which tie supporters to the men and women of the IDF, “make the connection extremely tangible,” Glenn says.
For Glenn’s father, Nathan, 66, of Virginia Beach, that’s also one of FIDF’s big differentiators. FIDF allows supporters to help the IDF’s men and women directly through educational programs like post-army IMPACT! Scholarships for combat veterans; Fallen and Wounded Programs like STRIDES, which provides athletic prosthetics, and LEGACY for the widows, children, siblings and other family members of fallen soldiers; and assistance for Lone Soldiers – those who join the IDF without having an immediate family in Israel.
“You can pick where you think you can be important, so FIDF’s different than a lot of other organizations,” Nathan says. “It could be an IMPACT! student, it could be taking care of a Lone Soldier. FIDF is something through which you can have a direct impact and you can see the benefit.”
Nathan, who works in consumer finance, learned about FIDF and got involved through his son. When FIDF decided to launch a Virginia Chapter as well, Nathan did not hesitate to follow in his son’s footsteps. Like for Glenn, it was really FIDF’s overall credo about the men and women of the IDF – “their job is to look after Israel. Our job is to look after them” – that deeply resonated with Nathan.
“Without a strong IDF, Jews around the world won’t be as strong,” Nathan says.
For both men, FIDF is inextricably linked to their Zionist ideals of supporting Israel, a link that connects and unites every Jew, and spans cultural, political, or religious lines.
“Israel ties us together. If there’s no Israel, what does that mean for Jews around the world?” Nathan concludes.
Glenn is heading the FIDF Next Group in Washington D.C. as its Co-Chair.
Nathan and his wife, Ilana, are chairing the Second Annual Virginia Gala that will take place on December 5, at the Hilton Norfolk, the Main. The gala will begin with 5:30 p.m. VIP reception, followed by a dinner reception and cocktails at 6:15 p.m. The funds raised at this event will go toward FIDF well-being and educational programs for IDF soldiers.
For more information or to support FIDF, please visit: https://www.fidf.org/events/second-annual-virginia-gala, or contact Ari Dallas, FIDF Mid-Atlantic Region Executive Director, at [email protected], 703-473-2399.