By Cindy Mindell
SOUTHINGTON – Hannah Bahavi, a resident of Southington, was among a group of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) leaders and supporters from the Connecticut and Westchester, N.Y. region who participated in the FIDF National Leadership Mission to Israel last month. The trip brought Westchester and Connecticut supporters together with the soldiers of the IDF, and provided them with in-depth briefings by senior military officers. The group also met with government leaders and toured strategic IDF bases to get a behind-the-scenes look into the Israeli military.
VIP events included meetings with Israel’s newly-elected president, Reuven Rivlin, and the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, as well as a briefing by Israel’s senior official on Arab Affairs, Avi Melamed.
The group heard first-hand from soldiers about serving on the front lines, toured a pivotal Iron Dome Battery in southern Israel that helped defend its people from thousands of rocket attacks, visited the Gaza Division headquarters to get briefed on the current security situation by the division’s commander, joined a unique gathering with soldiers who served in Operation Protective Edge this summer, visited the Hatzerim Air Force Base in the Negev Desert to meet F-15 and F-16 pilots, and learned about the activities of elite units such as the Givati Brigade and the “Iron Trails” Armored Brigade.
Bahavi first learned about FIDF eight years ago, when she received an invitation to the FIDF Westchester/Connecticut annual gala, an event she has attended every year since. In 2011, she embarked on her first trip to Israel with FIDF as part of a women’s mission. At one of the military bases on the itinerary, Bahavi presented a gift on behalf of the group to the commanding officer. “It was a very memorable moment for me because I began speaking to them in Hebrew and then finished in English,” she recalls. “After lunch, an FIDF staff member came up to me and said that what I had spoken brought one of the commanders to tears.”
In 2013, Bahavi joined the Israel part of an FIDF mission to Poland and Israel. This year, at the annual FIDF Westchester/Connecticut gala in March, Bahavi was invited by a fellow participant from that trip to join the Leadership Mission in November.
“That’s all I needed, a little persuasion, and I knew that I wanted to take part in this trip,” Bahavi says. “The momentum and enthusiasm had grown from my first FIDF trip, to want to continue to show the brave young men and women soldiers of the IDF my love and encouragement. I knew, because they told me how much it means to them and how thankful they are for our support.”
From the moment she stepped off the plane in Tel Aviv, Bahavi says she knew why she had come: “to convey to the IDF soldiers how much we appreciate what they do, not only for Israel and the Jewish people, but for peace-loving people all over the world, by guarding over Israel.”
The group’s meeting with President Reuven Rivlin was postponed for an hour while the head of state attended the funeral of the Har Nof synagogue terror victims. The national mood of mourning was tinged with unexpected humor at the meeting as Rivlin tried to accommodate the 140 mission members in a group photo. “It wasn’t possible to get everyone in the picture,” Bahavi recalls. “So President Rivlin sat on one side of the room in the front to take a picture, then he sat on the other side of the room to take a picture. He ran to the back of the room on one side and then the other side so that everyone was able to get into the picture. It was funny watching his bodyguard climbing on top of chairs and following him all over the room. There was much laughter.”
The group enjoyed several lunch and dinner meetings with high level officials from the IDF and Israeli government. On one such occasion, Bahavi had an opportunity to talk about why she had joined the mission.
“I wanted to be a spokesperson for the mothers in the group,” she says. “I said that I would share what I had learned in Israel with everyone I could back home so that they would know the truth about the boys and girls of the Israel Defense Forces. I said a prayer that when the soldiers are on the front line or in a dangerous situation, the thoughts would come into their minds and the feelings would come into their hearts of how much we love them and will always support them.”
For Bahavi, the most compelling part of the trip was a presentation by military officers on Operation Protective Edge. “I saw how vigilantly they watch computer screens 24 hours a day for any intruder coming into Israel from Gaza,” she says. “The responsibility that they carry is enormous, far too much for their young ages. They tell their soldiers, ‘What is possible is easy. What is impossible is what you will do.’ These young men and women are happy, friendly, and love life. You would think because they have such high rankings for such a young age that they would be proud and pompous. To the contrary, they have a humble and tender heart.”
On an earlier FIDF mission, Bahavi and fellow participants were presented with letters from the Israeli Minister of Tourism stating that they were all Israeli “ambassadors” to the U.S. “What people see in the news about the IDF is so far from the real truth of what’s happening there,” Bahavi says. “The most important thing is to get the true story out. I’m amazed at how many people I talk to who say they’re pro-Israel but don’t have the story right.”
The FIDF provides mission participants with a DVD and scrapbook from the trip, which Bahavi will share with others in her community in her role as “ambassador.” A member of Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford, Bahavi has been studying Hebrew on and off for many years and hopes to make aliyah. “These soldiers are so young and they have so much responsibility,” she says. “It boosts their morale when people come from the U.S. to show them our support, which is what they need. I really believe that one person can make a difference in their lives.”
FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 supporters and 15 regional offices throughout the U.S. and Panama. FIDF offers its support to the IDF soldiers and their families through a variety of unique and innovative programs. These opportunities reinforce the vital bond between the communities in the U.S., the soldiers of the IDF, and the State of Israel.
CAP: Hannah Bahavi poses with a few new friends in Israel.