Some of the campers
Some of the campersCourtesy of FIDF

Between terror attacks and escalated periods of military activity, Israelis understand loss and unimaginable grief all too well. The pain of every fallen soldier reverberates through the country and the Jewish world. Friends of the IDF (FIDF) supports thousands of bereaved families who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved one during service, offering them support as they rebuild their lives and futures.

FIDF’s Legacy Summer Camp is a unique opportunity in the United States provided every year to b’nai mitzvah (bar and bat mitzvah) age children and siblings of fallen soldiers, in partnership with the Yad LaBonim organization and the IDF. Last week, the program kicked off its 17th summer, giving 21 bereaved children a meaningful and memorable experience that they will keep with them the rest of their lives.

FIDF’s Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia chapters are hosting this year’s Legacy Camp, which ran from July 11-25, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Beginning at Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, the group has enjoyed a traditional camp experience with welcoming American campers, which will be followed by a tour of Washington, DC, Shabbat at host homes in Baltimore, a day in New York City, and a pool party at an FIDF donor home in Westchester, NY, before flying home to Israel.

“Long after the initial communal bereavement has subsided, families are often isolated in mourning and faced with a void that will last a lifetime,” said Avigail Rosemore, Legacy Camp Co-Chair. “Siblings of the fallen are often unintentionally overlooked and for this reason, FIDF created Legacy Camp, a chance for bereaved kids to feel normalcy amongst other kids who have experienced similar loss, even if just for a short while.”

“We often think of the fallen as those who have paid the ultimate price, but it’s important to acknowledge the impact on the children who are left behind,” said Todd Rosenberg, Chairman of the FIDF Washington, D.C., chapter. “We are humbled to be able to provide the Legacy Camp experience to support them.”

While campers are enjoying a gamut of activities, what is most valuable is their ability to share in this experience with others who have also lost loved ones. In fact, several of the staff members are soldiers who also lost loved ones and attended the program when they were b’nai mitzvah age. In addition, the delegation is led by officers from the IDF’S Casualty Unit, who accompany the camp’s participants and counselors throughout.

Interestingly, this year’s Legacy group includes a variety of populations and religions of campers who have lost loved ones while serving in the IDF, including Arab and Druze campers. Druze are a minority Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel who do not identify as Muslims.

“It is an absolute privilege for those of us in Baltimore to participate in the Legacy Camp program and show all of the campers and accompanying soldiers how important they are,” said Jenn Goldmeier, past host and Legacy Camp Co-Chair. “We want the group to return to Israel knowing and sharing the message that FIDF loves and supports them.”