In his early 20s, Aaron Polse hit the counterprotest circuit.
Whenever and wherever protesters raised their anti-Israel voices on Bay Area campuses, Polse would be there to raise his pro-Israel voice even louder.
One day, something clicked. The Lafayette native had had enough — and he bought a one-way ticket to Israel. It was 2006, and Polse became a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. “It was the greatest thing I’ve done in my life,” he says.
After an 18-month deployment that took him to the Lebanon border and the West Bank, Polse returned to the Bay Area. Now 26, he is more passionate then ever about Israel and the IDF.
That’s why he and five friends banded together to launch Friends of the IDF– Young Leadership, for activists ages 22 to 35.
The young leadership division of FIDF is having its launch party Saturday, May 22 at a San Francisco nightclub. Polse says it’s a social gathering of young, like-minded fans of Israeli soldiers.
“This is to introduce ourselves and what we’re about,” Polse says. “We’re focusing on getting young people interested and involved.”
Polse says his group’s emphasis is educating the community about the role of the IDF in protecting Israel, largely by bringing active-duty soldiers to the Bay Area. FIDF-YL also will support existing programs such as Legacy, which sponsors free trips to the United States for bereaved soldiers who have lost a loved one.
The idea for the young leadership division came last December during a local AIPAC event. Polse bumped into a few acquaintances who sit on the FIDF board. Together they sketched out the concept for the new sub-organization.
“I took it upon myself to get this going here,” he recalls. “FIDF is a great organization. It’s apolitical, and not pushing an agenda. There is no left or right, liberal or conservative. That’s the beauty of it: It’s just about helping soldiers.”
Sara Bronstein, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of FIDF, says the need for a young adult division had been evident from the start.
“Before I took the position, young people started contacting me saying they wanted to join,” says Bronstein, a former executive with the Israel Center, who came aboard FIDF a few months ago. “We’re hoping this will inspire the community to work toward the mission of the organization, bringing together young people who have a strong interest in supporting Israel and share their passion for service.”
Though Polse and one other FIDF-YL board member are former IDF soldiers, the other board members are not. Bronstein stresses that any young adult is welcome to join, American or Israeli, veteran or not.
The club gathering (the location remains undisclosed for security purposes) may be the first big event for FIDF-YL, but another is just around the corner. At Israel in the Gardens next month, the organization will have a booth where community members can learn more. The booth will feature a video camera so attendees can film their greetings and messages of support for Israeli soldiers now on the front lines.
In the months ahead, Polse says his organization will continue “bringing soldiers here and educating people.”
Bronstein is happy to have Polse and his comrades participating in FIDF outreach.
“They want to put their energy toward a cause they believe in strongly,” she says. “It’s very exciting to see a new breed coming up the ranks of our community.”
For information about Friends of the IDF–Young Leadership, call (650) 619-3513.