Under Steven Weil’s leadership, he says FIDF will continue to run scholarship programs and social justice projects to aid current and former IDF soldiers.
After the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces organization (FIDF) appointed Rabbi Steven Weil as its new national director and CEO in September, Weil has stated that after spending the last 30 years of his life trying to help build American Jewry, his new role is an opportunity to build Israeli Jewry, which he believes is “the ultimate future of the Jewish world.”
Weil began his new role on Sept. 16, succeeding Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, who led FIDF for the previous six years. FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a not-for-profit humanitarian organization with the mission of offering educational, cultural, recreational and social programs and facilities that provide support for Israel’s soldiers.
Weil is the former rabbi of Young Israel of Oak Park and was heavily involved in the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit and the greater Detroit Jewish community in his time here from 1994-2000. Weil also had an 11-year tenure as the senior managing director of the Orthodox Union.
Weil believes people assume the FIDF is about “buying bullets and machine guns for the soldiers” and says that is not at all the case.
Under Weil’s leadership, he says FIDF will continue to run scholarship programs and social justice projects to aid current and former IDF soldiers.
One program, the IMPACT! Scholarship Program, helps combat veterans who cannot afford the cost of higher education, sponsoring students at more than 80 institutions throughout Israel. Since 2002, over 16,000 students and alumni have been sponsored.
“It’s the first time in the history of these families that anyone’s gone to university,” Weil said. “We’re giving them the opportunity, not just the three years that they gave to the Jewish people in the army, but an opportunity to give 60, 70 years of their life to building the future of the Jewish people.”
Each IMPACT! student volunteers in the community for a total of 130 hours every year, paying it forward by helping 26 different organizations.
Other programs include Horizon, where FIDF pays two-thirds of the university scholarships for soldiers who are financially challenged, and Project Overcome, which helps at-risk youth with mentorship and funding of high school and college education.
“What we’re doing is building the future of the Jewish people by creating strategic and transformational solutions that enable the soldiers to become contributing members of society for the rest of their lives,” Weil said.
The FIDF directly supports about 118,000 soldiers every year, according to Weil.
“Our goal in Israel is that no Jew is left behind, and no Jew isn’t provided a chance to succeed and thrive,” Weil said. “That’s our goal, to fund those opportunities.”
The Abraham Accords, which were signed the day before Weil began his new role, are groundbreaking to FIDF’s mission and the soldiers they help on several levels, according to Weil.
“Whether it’s the banking industry in Bahrain or the technology and international trade industry in the UAE, it provides an incredible job opportunity and job market for the graduates of the IDF,” Weil said.
Weil also says, “a lie that’s been perpetrated for the last 30 years” that “until the ‘Palestinian issue’ is settled there can be no peace in the Middle East” has been ripped apart because of the Accords.
“In the minds of Israeli Arabs, in the minds of Palestinians, there’s now a future,” Weil said. “There’s now hope and the opportunity of all of Abraham’s descendants being able to function the way they should have for the last 70 years.”
Weil says the FIDF hopes the Abraham Accords expand to more countries.
“What’s extremely important is that tens of millions of Arabs will now be raised in a world where they’re not taught Jews are apes and pigs, and Israel is the devil, but that Jews are human beings who they can have real relationships with and can contribute to the benefit of the Muslim world,” Weil said.
Weil doesn’t believe the FIDF will be affected by the change in U.S. presidential administrations as the organization is apolitical, but believes the majority of both parties understand and internalize the value of Israel to America, the world and to stability in the Middle East.
No matter what, Weil said he hopes IDF soldiers feel the support from American Jews, donors or not.
“I hope that every young man and woman who gives between two and 10 years of their life to the Jewish people knows that all segments of American Jewry appreciate their sacrifice, commitment and loyalty, and that all segments of American Jewry are invested in their growth, future and their ability to continue to give to the Jewish world,” Weil said.
For Weil, the memories of his time in the Metro Detroit area are reflective of how he wants to lead the FIDF and give back to the soldiers.
“The six years our family lived in Southeast Michigan and were able to participate with the Detroit Jewish community are six of the most incredible years of our life,” Weil said.
“The kind of warmth and love that existed in the Detroit Jewish community is the kind of warmth and love we want to bring to the soldiers, these young men and women who are the future of the Jewish people.”