Oct 12, 2008
Last month, Israel was honored to host a group of members of IAVA – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The tripleft the visitors with a deep impression of the values and priorities of Israeli society.
The memorable visit was in large part due to the brainstorm of Eli Elefant, a former IDF commander in the Nahal Brigade. Eli, currently living in New York, is extremely active in dozens of projects to benefit the needy and vulnerable, and ALEH and its children are one of his favorite causes.
Eli met Paul Rieckhoff, veteran of the war in Iraq and subsequent Founder and Executive Director of IAVA, during their joint appearance on a talk show panel discussing the war on terror. Their discussion continued behind the curtains, where Rieckhoff explained why he had felt driven to found his organization. “In America, people feel very committed to their personal obligations. The needs of society at large fall to the wayside. I want to change this outlook. IAVA is an organization that cares about and provides solutions for those who have sacrificed a great deal to serve their homeland overseas.”
Eli described Israel’s outlook toward its soldiers, to public duty, and to caring for the vulnerable members of its society, and Rieckhoff was intrigued. And so was born the decision to bring a group of American soldiers, pilots, medics and military officers to Israel, so they could learn firsthand about its ideals and meet their IDF counterparts.
This message was powerfully brought home during the dinner spent in the company of Major General (Res) Doron Almog, one of Israel’s most decorated military heroes. Almog has devoted the past few years to the establishment of ALEH Negev, a rehabilitative village for Israel’s most severely disabled population.
In his speech, Doron emphasized the war fought daily on behalf of a more caring society. His description of ALEH Negev and his intense personal involvement vividly brought to life the significance of ongoing commitment to one’s nation and society on a level that goes beyond one’s army uniform and political affiliation.
Visibly moved, Paul Rieckhoff expressed the feelings of even the most hardened soldiers in his closing words. He described how many of the members of IAVA are soldiers who have suffered irreversible head injuries and are severely disabled following their service. “Indeed, this is the goal of our organization: to fight on behalf of the rights of every veteran, especially those whose sacrifice has made them completely reliant on society. I am greatly inspired by Doron, and I see ourselves from here on in as the ‘ambassadors’ of the ALEH organization in the United States,” he concluded.
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