March 6, 2007 / 16 Adar 5767
Yelena Dimitreva had not seen her son Alex for 18 months. “He looks so different and so much older,” she said as the pair hugged and cried at Ben Gurion Airport. “He is still my child, but he no longer looks like a child.” A soldier in the IDF artillery corps, 21 year old Alex fought in last summer’s second Lebanon war. He admits, however, to having deceived his mother. “I didn’t tell her the truth,” he confesses. “I told her that my unit had not been mobilized to fight in the war.”
Yelena Dimitreva from Kazakhstan and her son Alex
Yelena Dimitreva is one of hundreds of parents who arrived in Israel on February 20th and 21st for a week-long visit with their children who are serving in IDF combat units. A special joint project of the Jewish Agency, IDF, and Friends of the IDF enabled parents from the former Soviet Union, Western Europe, North America and Latin America to come to Israel.
“For some parents this is the first time they will be seeing their child in three or four years,” says Mati Sharfshtein, who runs Keshet, the Jewish Agency program which brings parents of lone immigrant soldiers to visit their children serving in the IDF. To date, the program, which was started in 2001, has brought 1,200 parents on visits to Israel This visit, the largest single mission, will raise that number even further.
“It is very difficult being a mother of a soldier in Israel, but you get to see your children at least once a month,” observed Sharfstein. “I cannot imagine what these mothers must be going through. Bringing them here to see their children is something that we as the Jewish people owe them.”
Matthew Bielski, 23, an economics graduate from Binghamton University decided when he was college that it was his duty to enlist in the IDF. He was, so to speak, carrying on a family tradition of fighting for the defense of the Jewish people. His father Jakow, a psychologist, served in the IDF in the Yom Kippur War, while his grandfather Zusya Bielski, was one of the famous Bielski partisans who saved 1,200 Jews in the German-occupied Soviet territory during World War II. Today Matthew is a sergeant in a special paratroopers unit.
“I feel so proud of Matthew,” said his mother Margo from North Woodmere, Long Island, New York, who had not seen him for more than a year. “He has lost a lot of fat and replaced it with muscle.”
Solanje Jabiles from Lima, Peru and her son Joel
Joel Jabiles from Lima, Peru was meeting his mother Solanje for the first time in nearly two years. A sergeant in the IDF’s Givati Brigade, he too led his mother to believe that he was far away from the war zone last summer. “It’s amazing to see him looking so healthy,” said Solanje. “Joel has always dreamed of being in Israel and serving in the army, so despite my worries I am just happy that he is able to fulfill his dream.”
Israel Kellersztein, 21, from Mexico City, had not seen his mother Elisa in nearly 18 months. “Life was good in Mexico,” said Kellersztein who is a sergeant in the Givati Unit. “But I am an old fashioned Zionist who believes all Jews should be living in Israel. That’s why I’m here.”
During the week-long visit, for which their children receive special leave from the army, parents and children toured Israel and learned about higher education and employment opportunities after the army. The Jewish Agency covered the cost of the mission through funding provided by the United Jewish Communities, at a cost of NIS 2 million ($480,000 or approximately $2,600 for each parent and child).
Tatyana Milner from Moscow, Russia and her son Vladimir
Tatyana Milner from Moscow, the mother of 22-year-old Vladimir Milner who serves in a Border Patrol unit in Bethlehem, said that she was overwhelmed with gratitude to the Jewish Agency for bringing her to Israel. “I think you would have to be a mother who hadn’t seen her son for more than a year to fully appreciate how grateful I am,” she explained with an ecstatic smile.