A few weeks after his daughter Adi graduated from Homestead High School in Cupertino in June, Yossi Caspi bade her goodbye. But the 18-year-old didn’t go off to college. Adi Caspi headed overseas — as a recruit for the Israeli army.
A native Israeli and veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, Caspi knew what his daughter was in for as she began basic training. He didn’t worry about her safety, at least not initially. But then Adi’s home base came under Hamas rocket fire during Operation Pillar of Defense last month.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said of those tense days. “The timing was really challenging for everybody, especially for remote parents. [Adi] accepted the situation and tried to calm down. Her attitude was to go and serve.”
As the parent of a soldier, Caspi naturally wanted his daughter to be safe and sound. That’s why he will be attending the Chanukah benefit dinner for Friends of the IDF on Dec. 9 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco.
The event will feature a handful of interesting speakers, including: a female soldier who serves in Israel’s only co-ed combat unit; a Bay Area native who served as a lone soldier; an Israeli mother whose two sons died while serving; and Maj. Gen. Yaakov Ayash, Israel’s Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the United States and Canada.
Founded in 1981 and based in New York, Friends of the IDF provides aid to Israeli military personnel and to families of fallen soldiers. It funds college scholarships, travel for soldiers, recreation centers, and vouchers for food, clothing and furniture.
“It’s not easy being a soldier,” said Jonathan Bernstein, executive director of FIDF’s Bay Area chapter. “There are a lot of times when it’s stressful, where you are put in situations where you have to make incredible moral decisions. We appreciate them.”
Bernstein said one of the organization’s most ambitious current projects is construction of a new recreation center in Israel’s Negev region. It will have a swimming pool, synagogue, library and sports facility.
But one of FIDF’s most popular programs provides lone soldiers with care packages of food and toiletries.
One potential recipient of such a package is Adi Caspi. She has no immediate family in Israel, which classifies her as a lone soldier.
“When you talk about support soldiers need, there are two kinds,” said Yossi Caspi, who saw action as a soldier in the 1991 Gulf War. He has lived and worked in Silicon Valley since 2003. “One is morale. The other is material. Just to say ‘We honor what you’re doing, we support you,’ that by itself, as an ex-soldier, I understand. The second part, by giving gifts for the holidays for example, is something in tough times, when you’re on duty, that matters a lot.”
Bernstein, who formerly headed the Anti-Defamation League’s Bay Area office, has found that many Americans fail to understand just how important the IDF is to Israeli society.
“The army is where ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, political persuasions and religious traditions all come together,” he said. “It’s a tremendous melting pot that influences every aspect of Israeli life. We have nothing of comparison here. American Jews who want to have a positive influence over Israel’s development need to connect with the IDF.”
As for Adi Caspi, her father said he isn’t sure what she will do once her army service ends. She’s interested in fashion and design, but those passions will have to wait until she hangs up her IDF uniform.
“It’s not done for money,” Caspi said of his daughter’s service. “It’s done for a mission.”
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces Chanukah Celebration Dinner, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, 1 Nob Hill, S.F. www.fidf.org or (650) 494-3100