Songs from the Heart

From left: Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble singers Neta Barzilai, Adar Hayat, Ohad Sabagi and Zlil Halaf performed for approximately 400 attendees of the FIDF event at Beth El Congregation’s Offit auditorium. (Melissa Gerr)

From left: Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble singers Neta Barzilai, Adar Hayat, Ohad Sabagi and Tslil Halaf performed for approximately 400 attendees of the FIDF event at Beth El Congregation’s Offit auditorium.
(Melissa Gerr)

Four singing privates first class of the Israel Defense Forces Naval Ensemble had the audience clapping, singing and even dancing to the spirited and soulful songs they performed for the approximately 400 attendees in Beth El Congregation’s Offit Auditorium.

The event, presented by Friends of the IDF and Beth El Congregation, honored Charlie Levine, founder of the Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Midatlantic FIDF chapters, who was described in his introduction as “the spark that started it all … and kept it going.” The event also recognized Noah Abrams, son of Cheryl and Tim Abrams, for his bar mitzvah project Buckets for FIDF, a basketball tournament that raised more than $1,100 for FIDF. Also recognized and honored were the 65 lone soldiers and their families in Maryland.

“These soldiers are laying their lives down for Israel and every Jew worldwide,” said event co-chair Shirley Cohen. “We help them every way we can. If Israel is lost, we’re all gone.”

Vickie and Eugene Meyer also co-chaired the event, which raises awareness of and funds for the FIDF and the Lone Soldier program. Israel’s lone soldiers are those who choose to leave their countries of origin to serve in Israel’s military and whose families live abroad.

Approximately 950 lone soldiers join the army each year. An interviewee in a video shown that evening explained the program’s mission succinctly: When one thinks of Israeli soldiers, it conjures images of brave men and women in uniform. The FIDF addresses the needs of “the person in the uniform.”

FIDF supports the Israel Defense Forces in many ways such as assistance for widows and orphans, scholarships after service, host family support and other social needs of the soldiers. As the FIDF tagline says: “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.”

An emotional point of the evening occurred when Jo Ellen and Zachary Chattler of Baltimore spoke about their lone soldier son, Daniel, now on duty in Israel. When Daniel was a child, he was in awe of men and women in uniform and said they were his heroes, his father told the audience. This feeling and image stayed with Daniel as he grew older and participated in trips such as Taglit Birthright. His love for and dedication to Israel grew as well, his father explained.

Chattler read from one of his son’s emails, which detailed a story of how he unintentionally ended up riding a public bus while still in uniform. Seated across from him, a small boy watched Daniel closely for a while and the boy ultimately smiled at him. “At that moment,” read Daniel’s father, voice quavering, “I knew I was his hero.”

The naval ensemble’s energy, enthusiasm and melodic voices filled the auditorium for two 30-minute sets. Neta Barzilai, who served as emcee, added her powerful, gospel-like voice to the performance. Eyal Bor, director of education of Beth El schools, played clarinet with the group for one of its songs.

For singers Ohad Sabagi, Tslil Halaf, Neta Barzilai and Adar Hayat, and sound engineer Dor Laniado, all in their early 20s, it was their first time in the U.S., and they had expectations of the visit. Images of big cities, tall buildings and urban spaces such as New York filled their imaginations. They were pleasantly surprised to see how clean and green Baltimore and its suburbs are, how tightly knit and welcoming the Jewish community felt to them and that there are two JCCs in one city. Halaf enjoyed the Inner Harbor visit and mentioned it felt a little different than what she is used to — while there are tourists and shops in Israeli harbors too, there are also Navy ships and soldiers with guns.

Commander and deputy head of personnel for his unit, Avraham Gaon, 46, has served in the Israeli army for 29 years. Gaon came along as “the responsible adult” with the naval ensemble. He has traveled all over the world, but this was also his first visit to the U.S. The group spent three days in Baltimore before heading to Atlanta. Gaon’s visit with the Jewish community of Baltimore gave him a lasting impression.

“For the first time just yesterday, I understand, that all of us are one nation,” Gaon said.

Gaon said that he had always wondered, why would Jews live somewhere other than Israel? He imagined he might not feel the connection to Jews he met in the U.S. Maybe they feel Jewish, he explained, but do not feel for the State of Israel.

“Yesterday, all of them — the children, the host family, the people from FIDF — for first time in my life I understand, it doesn’t matter why they are here … all the Jewish people are one nation,” he said “Yesterday, it was eureka. It made me feel that we are friends, family, that we are strong together.”

Friends of the IDF
Washington, D.C. Chapter’s Third Annual Gala

From Holocaust to Independence
Honoring Rosemary Schindler
(Family of Oskar Schindler)

Thursday May 29 at 6:30 p.m. (reception); program starts at 7:30 p.m.

Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center
5701 Marinelli Road in Bethesda

For more information and tickets, contact 301-960-3531 or

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *