2016-10-12 / Home

Choral concert to fund Israel trips for struggling American war veterans

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

A Vietnam War combat veteran, Gordon Bocher, the Commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 126, understands the complexity of issues facing soldiers upon their return to civilian life.

Despite the availability of services to help wounded warriors, veterans are far more likely than their civilian peers to face homelessness, unemployment, physical and mental health challenges as well as fall prey to drug and alcohol abuse. Veterans take their own life at an alarming rate of 22 a day, according to studies.

For many, it is the loss of a spiritual mooring that prevents them from taking advantage of help and from moving on from their traumatic war experiences, explained Bocher, who has had his own struggles with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But for some 100 or so American veterans who have journeyed to Israel through a non-profit group with local roots, the healing process is well underway. Heroes to Heroes, a six-year old foundation that offers 10-day trips to the Holy Land for American combat veterans, was started by Judy Schaffer, who dedicates the work to her father Irving M. Isaacson, a World War II vet who lived in Cherry Hill and was an active member of JWV Post 126 before passing away in 2001. In the quest to help more at-risk veterans take part in such missions, Post 126 is sponsoring a benefit choral event Nov. 5 at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill.

“Heroes to Heroes brought these guys from the depths of depravity back to society and to their families to take on the responsibilities they were born to do,” said Bocher, who first learned of the organization through a TV news feature. “They became fathers again, husbands; some found employment and they found purpose. It’s a miracle. To my way of thinking, this is the only program that I’ve ever seen that works, and works at such a high level.”

On their 10-day missions, the American veterans meet up with Israeli counterparts. While visiting holy sites (not just Jewish ones) the Israeli and American veterans build relationships, set goals, and find “reasons to be” while experiencing the adventures of a lifetime, explained Schaffer.

“My feeling is that, in order for people to want to live, they have to have some kind of super connection to a creator, higher being or other people,” said Schaffer. “Why not take them back to Israel, where it all began? That way they can physically connect to their spirituality and maybe it will work; maybe it will keep people alive. Adding Israeli veterans into the mix gives an added connection. If it’s three in the morning in New York, it’s 10 in Israel. There’s always someone to call. They help each other out all the time. It’s really an amazing thing.”

All 100 past participants are still alive and nearly all rely on the friends they’ve made to piece back their lives, she said. Besides the powerful work of helping these soldiers find meaning in life, it is an antiseptic to anti- Semitism, explained Bocher, noting that none of the American participants are Jewish and most come from minority backgrounds.

“It’s so important to me because it’s a win on three or four levels,” he said. “It helps the veterans; it helps members of the IDF; it helps the state of Israel; and it fights anti-Semitism.”

Schaffer said the foundation is in expansion mode. It has enlisted former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Christian minister, and his wife Janet as honorary chairs. Run by volunteers since the beginning, it’s finally in a position to hire staff.

“Our ultimate goal is to raise $3-million a year to send 200 veterans annually to Israel,” she said.

The Nov. 5 concert will feature the Singing Hearts Choral Society and Rutgers University Choir under the direction of Julia Zavadsky, who is also the conductor of Temple Emanuel’s choir. The event will feature a dessert buffet and elaborate Chinese auction.

For tickets and information on sponsoring the event, contact Betsy Bocher at (856) 334-5075 or Kathie D’Antonio at (856) 313-2847. 

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