FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program grants full four-year scholarships to Israeli combat and combat support soldiers in need, following their military service.
Last October, while on my 16th trip to Israel, I had an experience that I will never forget. I got to meet two veteran IDF soldiers whose lives were changed forever, thanks to the IMPACT! scholarships that my husband Norm and I had provided. Here’s a little background that led to this meeting.
On our second trip to Israel in 1980, our group had the privilege of being the first mission to be able to spend the night at an IDF army base. It was very exciting, and a little scary as well. We met several of the officers there and the one that stood out was Yaya — Yair Yaron, the head of the Paratroopers Unit.
In 1996, Yaya asked Norm if he would help to set up a new chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) in Detroit, which he did. My involvement with FIDF at that time was attending the annual dinner every year. Then, in the summer of 2015, we attended a gathering where I learned about the IMPACT! Scholarship Program. Norm and I were so impressed with what we heard about this unique program that we decided to become donors in support of a scholarship that night.
FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program grants full four-year scholarships to Israeli combat and combat support soldiers in need, following their military service. The IMPACT! scholarship is unique: 100% of contributions go directly to the student for payment of tuition and related expenses, such as textbooks, as well as living experiences while they study so they can fully focus on their academics at an accredited university.
To be eligible, the soldier must come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background, which would prevent them from getting a college education. Any IDF soldier that meets the criteria can receive an IMPACT! scholarship. Every scholarship student must complete 130 hours of community service during each year of their scholarship as a way to give back and help others in need in return for this opportunity.
Soldiers from every socioeconomic level enter the IDF after they complete high school. Many have the aptitude and desire to continue their studies after their army service but lack the financial means to do so. That’s why the IMPACT! Program is so special. This is the 18th year of the program and over 16,000 students have benefited from this special program.
Donors receive an initial letter and photo from their scholarship student followed by a letter yearly with an update on their academic progress, volunteer placements and life in general. Many of the families sponsor more than one student. Some families develop very close relationships with their students and celebrate family simchahs together. They may get together in Israel and, in some cases, have brought their students to the United States for a visit. The connections continue long after graduation. We looked forward to receiving letters from our soldier, Barak, but we didn’t meet him in person because we did not go to Israel during that time.
In the intervening years, my involvement with FIDF increased, as I chaired the Women of Valor Luncheon in 2018 and 2019, which successfully raised funds for the IMPACT! Scholarship Program. Then in the fall of 2019 I decided to go on a Women’s Mission to Israel. Paula Lebowitz, FIDF Michigan Chapter director, asked if I would like to meet my student. She encouraged me to find the time because all the donors who have met their students in the past have said it was a highlight of their trip — and so it was for me as well.
When the day came for our lunch meeting, I was very pleased and surprised to learn that we had not one but two scholars: one who had completed his scholarship and was involved in his career and another who was in the middle of his schooling. Both came to meet me, bringing me gifts and lots of gratitude. I will never forget their expressions of appreciation and how grateful they were that we had changed their lives.
Hearing about their experiences changed my life as well. I came home with the determination and goal of encouraging more Detroiters to participate in this life-changing program. As much as you will be giving to a soldier in need, you will personally receive even more and, hopefully, sometime in the future, you too will be able to meet someone whose life was changed by your generosity.
Community leader and philanthropist Susie Pappas lives in Bloomfield Hills.