It was the summer of 2014. Michael, a Roslyn native, was working in Israel on a fellowship when the war in Gaza broke out — a 50-day conflict that left more than 2,000 dead and served as an epiphany for the 20-year-old.
Michael said the war was a deciding factor in his choice to follow his father’s footsteps and join the Israeli military.
“I was an American living and working in Tel Aviv,” said the 24-year-old 1st Sergeant assigned to Special Forces for the Israel Defense Forces. Michael asked that his last name not be published for security reasons.
“A bell sort of went off in my head and sort of connected the dots” he said.
Michael, who enlisted as a “Lone Soldier,” a Jew living outside of Israel who travels to the country without his family to serve in the IDF, was among at least 10 current military personnel who were celebrated at the Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success Wednesday night.
He attended the semiformal event in his uniform, complete with combat boots and a a green beret perched on his epaulet. The Johns Hopkins University graduate enlisted in the Israeli military in November 2016 and said he has about 10 months left to serve.
On being split between two countries, he said he loves serving in Israel but has some nostalgia for Long Island.
“I miss the people. I miss the pizza . . . . Look, I’m your typical American Jew from Long Island in many ways.”
The gala drew more than 500. It was sponsored by the Long Island chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and was one of several fundraisers the group hosts throughout the year to support members of the military unit.
The Long Island chapter raises about $4 million a year, said Galit Brichta, executive director of the Tri-State FIDF, which includes New York New Jersey and Connecticut. Brichta said the tri-state-area chapters yield about $25 million a year, a fifth of the $128 million that the 15 chapters in the United States and one on Panama raise annually.
The FIDF was founded in New York City in 1981 by Holocaust survivors whose goal was “to protect the state of Israel by supporting the well-being of its soldiers," Brichta said.
The chapters, said Long Island FIDF Chairman Ronny Ben-Josef, also hosts golf outings, briefings and days of learning.
“The Ben-Josef family planted the seed in this community,” Brichta said.
Michael said he doesn't regret his choice.
"I went to a good university and I was up for a job on Wall Street, but I decided to follow a different path," he said. "Sure, I am definitely between two worlds but I'm proud of it. I'm proud of being in Israel and I am proud of my American roots and proud to say I have Israeli influences. It's not a source of tension, it's a source of pride."