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August 25, 2016 4:53 am

IDF Project Seeks to Make Life Easier for Israeli Soldiers

avatar by Alyssa Gross

IDF soldiers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

IDF soldiers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

I’m a 31-year-old Jewish American female. I was never drafted to the army, never enlisted and never trained or served in a combat unit during a time of ongoing conflict or war. But I know that if my life were on the line, I would want the latest gear in order to protect myself while serving my country.

Ross Den, a New York native, knows the life of an Israeli soldier. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he dropped out of college, left the comforts of home and joined the Israeli army — often carrying out anti-terror missions in the West Bank and on the Lebanese border.

In 2014, despite having moved back to New York, he was determined to support his Israeli brothers and sisters in combat. Thus, he took up arms via flashlights, hydration packs, rescue slings and other military necessities by starting the IDF Project.

Ross said, “One of my main motivations other than lack of gear was my understanding that people send food, soap and shampoo — which is not what soldiers need. When I got pulled into Operation Protective Edge, I saw rooms filled with shampoo and towels and toothpaste. The money should have really went to getting them hydration systems and lights and good gloves and advanced hearing protection.”

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How do you fight an enemy in the dark without an effective flashlight? Many infantrymen have flashlights with lightbulbs that can burn out at any moment.

Imagine a room in an urban environment, where your life depends on seeing what is inside. Furthermore, with the right flashlight, you can blind the enemy for 3 to 6 seconds. The right flashlight is the difference between life and death.

In 2014, Ross made his first humanitarian trip to Israel with military accessories. He’s gone back ever since.

In order to distribute the equipment, he works with an organization called Chayal le Chayal, meaning soldier to soldier. How else did he manage to get this life saving gear to soldiers? When he went to weddings, on business trips or even on vacation, he packed his suitcase with gear the soldiers so desperately needed.

And how did Ross raise the money to purchase the gear in the first place? The almighty Facebook. When Ross posted his grassroots project on the social media site, word spread like wildfire within the Russian American Jewish community; one person shared the post then another and another. From $18 dollars to $5,000 dollars, American Jews donated to help the IDF. To date, $70,000 has been raised with the support of COJECO (Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organization). One hundred percent of donations go directly to funding military accessories for soldiers; Ross says there are no administrative costs.

Ross also identified something else that soldiers need in the hot Middle Eastern sun: water.

The IDF provides two canteens, which carry approximately 750 ml of water each. But a 72-hour mission requires 5 litters of water. What’s the solution? Soldiers are instructed to go through the trash, find empty coke bottles, and fill them with water.

In response, Ross started purchasing hydration packs from Haifa that carry 3 litters of water each. Through his connections as a lone soldier, he’s been able to disperse these supplies to hundreds of IDF troops.

When Ross was distributing the gear to Israeli soldiers during the Protective Edge mission in Gaza, he was pulled into military service. Always ready to serve, he pulled out his uniform, which he packed “just in case.”

When asked what the IDF Project means to him, Ross said simply “If I can save a life, it’s priceless.”

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