LEGACY Children Visit the United States and take Los Angeles by Storm!

In 2006, the Western Region of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces established LEGACY, a program designed to bring Bar/Bat Mitzvah age children and siblings of fallen soldiers to summer camp in the United States. As a result of the horrible tragedy of the loss of a parent or sibling from war or terrorism, there are literally hundreds of children who have suffered tremendous emotional distress. Over the last 6 years, the relationship between Camp Ramah in Ojai, California and Friends of the IDF has blossomed into a mutually rewarding collaboration which just grows and expands each year.

As Camp Ramah Director Zach Lasker states, “Thank you so much for the honor of hosting the LEGACY group!!!  B’gadol – it was a great summer and we were so thankful to have them with us.  It is so awesome to see how the program has evolved and how much the group is a fixed part of our community.”

The purpose of the program is to enable these children the opportunity to enjoy a Jewish summer camp experience shared with American Jewish children their own age, at a pivotal point in their lives – becoming a bar/bat mitzvah. The program provides the children with both an emotional escape and an opportunity to bond with other children. Because FIDF recognizes that these children continue to suffer emotional distress, the program must include funding for social workers/counselors specially trained in grief issues to accompany the children on the ten day trip. Many of the counselors that travel with the children also are members of bereaved families and have gone through the LEGACY program themselves.

Our 2011 LEGACY Group was one of the largest ever, bringing a group of nearly 40 from Israel. Accompanied by counselors and commanders (currently serving in the IDF), the children were greeted with song and open arms by a vivacious crowd at Camp Ramah in Ojai Valley.  The group was ready for action thanks to backpacks full of goodies donated by FIDF board members Marci Spitzer & Cindy Dubin, as they so graciously do each year for LEGACY.

A walking tour kicked off a day of fun, inspiring an impromptu performance of a “Moreshet!” (Legacy) chant through Hollywood.  Engraved “Oscar” statuettes were fittingly awarded to all, donated by Israeli Leadership Council founder Eli Marmur and his children, Dana & Rich Rusakoff, who also generously sponsored a LEGACY dinner following a second day out of camp at Universal Studios. Once again, FIDF board member, Kal Berson, organized a lunch for the group this year on behalf of the Lodzer Organization and Birthday Club, who together made possible a LEGACY shopping spree for the history books!

The festive day concluded with an annual celebration hosted by FIDF board members, Dina & Fred Leeds.  Breakdancers, snow cone makers, various artists and exotic animals were just some of the extraordinary attractions that had the children lining up.  The smoky barbeque feast was enjoyed by all, as was the dancing and special choreographed thank you performance from the LEGACY group.

Returning to Israel proved bittersweet, with great hugs and love to go around.  The once timid group of nearly 40 had visibly blossomed over the ten days in the United States and exchanged warm hugs as they departed--knowing they have the love and support of friends in faraway places.
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