[Boycott - Israel Supporters]
Philanthropists aid Israeli ‘lone soldiers’
Paul Lungen, Canadian Jewish News
10 May 2007
[Lone soldiers] come to Israel out of a deep Zionist commitment. These kids are the volunteers of the volunteers and they serve in all sorts of IDF units, including combat units.
Gerry Schwartz explaining why its important to support 'lone soldiers'
A fortuitous walk on the waterfront in Athens during the Olympic Games two years ago has led to the creation of a unique program to aid “lone soldiers” in Israel.
One of Canada’s foremost power couples, Gerry Schwartz, president and CEO of Onex Corporation, and Heather Reisman, chair and CEO of Indigo Books and Music, have launched an organization called Heseg that will disburse scholarship funds to soldiers living alone in Israel who have completed their army service and who intend to remain in the country.
Heseg, “achievement” in Hebrew, will provide 100 full scholarships in each of the next three years so that when the program is running at full capacity, 300 former soldiers will be attending Israeli universities or trade schools. They will also have their living expenses underwritten. At its peak, Heseg will distribute $3 million per year, Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who has also donated $12 million to the Jewish Toronto Tomorrow campaign towards the community’s new Vaughan campus, said Heseg “is the one [project] that has my heart and it certainly has my full attention now.”
Two years ago, Schwartz had never heard of “lone soldiers.” At the time, he was searching for a way to help young people in Israel when a security guard assigned to protect him, Reisman and a second high profile couple in Athens planted the seed. The guard, Matan, had served in Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence and security agency, and he said, “‘You ought to think about doing something about lone soldiers. Nobody takes care of them,’” Schwartz recalled.
“I didn’t even know about lone soldiers,” he added.
He soon learned that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) at any one time has close to 6,000 soldiers in service who have mostly volunteered from abroad, and who enlist without having the kind of domestic supports that homegrown IDF soldiers rely upon to ease their army duty.
Where sabra soldiers usually head home for weekend leave, lone soldiers often just hang out at their base. Sometimes lone soldiers enlist without the support of their families – even in the face of their vocal opposition – making them feel even more isolated, Schwartz said.
Researching the subject, Schwartz learned that lone soldiers come from around the world, including North America, Brazil, Argentina, Uzbekistan, Switzerland and even Chechnya.
They come to Israel out of a deep Zionist commitment. “These kids are the volunteers of the volunteers” and they serve in all sorts of IDF units, including combat units.
As he set about trying to create an infrastructure to support the Heseg program, he learned that lone soldiers can reach the highest levels in the military. Discussing the subject with Brig.-Gen. Benny Zucker, commander of the Tel Nof air force base near Tel Aviv, Zucker told him, “‘Of course I know [about lone soldiers]. I was a lone soldier.’”
Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, centre at the back, with some of the soldiers in Heseg, the program to aid ‘lone soldiers.’
Schwartz assembled a 12-person advisory board chaired by Itamar Rabinovitch, president of Tel Aviv University and formerly Israel’s ambassador to Washington. The board includes representatives of the IDF and includes a lieutenant-colonel who heads the IDF’s sniper school. It turns out he too is also a lone soldier, the son of an Orthodox rabbi who moved to Israel from California 16 years ago against the wishes of his family.
The advisory board will make the final determination of candidates for scholarships after they had been vetted by their base and unit commanders.
About two months ago, Heseg was launched at a ceremony at the Sde Dov air base that was attended by 170 lone soldiers as well as by the IDF Chief of Staff, the Chief of the Air Force, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, and many other dignitaries.
One of the attendees was Matan, who was taken aback at what was happening.
“He was incredulous that the conversation walking along the waterfront in Athens led to this,” Schwartz said.
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