By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — How do you hold on to hope?
That was the question posed to reserve Brigadier Gen. Gila Klifi-Amir on Wednesday, Oct. 21.
At the time, the general was addressing an audience of more than 50 at a special “Friends of the Israel Defense Forces” luncheon.
Audience member Manuel Rajunov asked the question in response to footage that was posted on social media and quoted in news reports: A little girl was shown brandishing a knife — saying to the camera that she wants to “stab a Jew.”
“It saddens me because we’ve lost another generation, because an Israeli is somebody who lives in that reality every day,” Rajunov said.
The general was taken aback by the intensity of his question.
“Wow,” she said.
Klifi-Amir, incidentally, is a 30-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces. She supervised all matters in relation to women’s service in the Israeli military while serving as the chief of the general staff’s advisor on women’s affairs.
Her answer came in an illustration of the current relationship between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.
“Palestinians may assert ‘I don’t recognize your existence as an Israeli, as a Jew in his country,’” she said. “So how can you start to negotiate? … We say, ‘OK, let’s create two states’ but they ignore us. … But I believe we have an opportunity because we have the same interests.”
The opportunity is that Israelis and Palestinians are basically in the same boat, Klifi-Amir said. Both face the same challenges with the terror group ISIS and the uncertainty of the Iran nuclear agreement.
Especially the Iran nuclear agreement.
“It has changed the balance,” she said. “They (Palestinians) say it’s Israel’s problem but its not. They are more frightened than we are. The Iranians will use nuclear weapons and it’s a problem for the whole world.”
Ultimately, hope comes with the conviction that Israelis are strong and can protect themselves, she said.
“I hope we can change things,” she said.
Klifi-Amir is married to retired Maj. Gen. Meir Klifi-Amir, the national executive director and CEO of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). They are the only married-couple generals in the entire Israeli military.
They have three children — a 28-year-old daughter who is a combat solider and paratrooper, a 23-year-old son who is a business school student, and a 20-year-old daughter who is a psychology major.
‘Social barriers’ for women
Also during the meeting, Klifi-Amir discussed the issue of women trying to break the career “glass ceiling” in the military.
“As a woman there are society barriers, but as a woman you have your own personal barriers because of your condition,” she said. “You are a wife, you are a mother, you have to do your job. … It is a personal challenge you do those things because you want to and you believe in your own mission.”
Sylvia Stark of Livingston, New Jersey — whose husband Arthur is chairman of the board emeritus of FIDF — also spoke during the luncheon.
At times in tears, Stark read from an open letter her husband had written. It was titled “Words From A Father.”
The letter addressed their son Adam Stark, who developed a passion for Israel and the IDF at an early age, inspired by the soldiers of the IDF.
It was no surprise to anyone when Adam joined the IDF.
But Sylvia Stark found herself growing increasingly concerned for Adam’s safety as time went on. And in his letter, Arthur Stark wondered aloud if Adam’s exposure to the IDF at such an impressionable age influenced his decision to join.
“‘He (Adam) is more (articulate) in his actions than in his words but he accepts the dangers and demonstrates … the commitment to a larger purpose,’ ” Arthur Stark stated in the letter his wife read aloud.
“‘I realize he has made his own choice but I have felt responsible for that choice by exposing him in this way and surrounding him and our family for the past 15 years with members of the IDF who share a passion for Israel …’”
Sylvia Stark said Adam, who is now back home, was part of a very elite unit of paratroopers.
“To this day he doesn’t talk about what he did, what his missions were, what he needed to accomplish, what he suffered and what he had to endure,” Sylvia Stark said. “He finished college and is at work. But it’s a struggle getting back to society. He is . . . behind his friends, who moved on with their lives. But he has to play catch-up.”
Sylvia Stark said her fears grew even more pronounced after her son Jordan decided to follow the same path as Adam and join the IDF.
“I would never have dreamed he’d do it,” she said. “He saw how much I suffered — waiting for Adam to come home.”
But the shoe dropped in the middle of a counseling session Sylvia Stark attended during Jordan’s senior year.
When discussing future schooling, Jordan’s counselor pointed out that all of it would have to be “pushed aside until after your military service.”
This was the first Sylvia Stark had heard of her youngest child joining the IDF.
“Thank God I was siting down,” she said.
Jordan went on to become a paratrooper and now wants to extend his service, Stark said.
“I can’t take it much longer,” she said. “I need him to come home. But there are 6,000 volunteers who also left the comfort of their friends and family … There is something that tells them they must do this.”
Scott Kammerman, the executive director of FIDF’s Texas Chapter, introduced both Gila Klifi-Amir and Sylvia Stark at the beginning of the ceremony, pointing out that this was both women’s first trip to Texas.
In response, someone in the audience exclaimed “HOWDY!”
After the luncheon, Kammerman said Gila Klifi-Amir and Sylvia Stark soon will return home — Klifi-Amir to New York and Sylvia Stark to New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Kammerman said Texas — particularly Dallas — will see more FIDF events in the near future.
“We are going to look to partner with other organizations along the way, to form mutually beneficial relationships,” he said.
“In early December I’m going to be bringing to Texas a lone soldier who was best friends with Sean Carmeli from Padre Island, who was killed last year. This soldier grew up in San Antonio and joined the IDF at 18 and now, two years later, he is a sergeant and a sniper … I’m also bringing in with him an active-duty Israeli air force pilot. … Both will be in uniform.”
Requests for IDF
During his luncheon comments, Kammerman said there are many things the organization can do the help the IDF. One current request is for FIDF to provide 180,000 mezuzahs.
The luncheon took place at the Sawmill Road home of Kim Kaliser — who partnered with Linda Leftin to sponsor the event.
During the program, Kaliser emphasized that supporting IDF is important because its members are on the front lines fighting terrorism on the scale of 9/11.
“They are fighting the evil we pray we will never see again,” she said. “The young men and women of the IDF are fighting for humanity, civilized societies and religious freedoms. We owe it to them to help however we can.”