IDF singers, officers draw 300 to JCC in Palo Alto

Bob Hope would love this.

Surrounded by colorful military flags the five female vocalists, along with electric drum and keyboard players, stood on stage in their green service uniforms, ready to entertain the troops.

The performers were members of the Entertainment Corps of the Israel Defense Force. They were about to entertain more than 300 Bay Area residents gathered recently at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto. These seven young people between the ages of 19 and 21 were picked from thousands of IDF members for their voices and musical talent.

"Our goal is to reach the heart of a fighting soldier in Gaza, a lonely soldier in Jerusalem or a soldier who hasn't been home in quite a while," said vocalist Loren Peer. "We travel all around Israel's borders and sing contemporary songs to the combat soldiers to raise their morale."

The program also included a briefing by a combat officer, Lt. Col. Harel Knafe, who was deputy to the brigadier general of the Paratroopers Brigade.

"The situation in Israel is not a war but has a lot of combat situations, many of them frightening," he said in an interview. "However, for the Palestinian side it is almost total war, as they are using all their power.

"We haven't cared to increase the violence," he added. "We do not wish to hurt women and children."

He reported that the Palestinians send the women and children out in front of those who are attacking the Israelis. When the Israeli soldiers try to prevent their movement, snipers send bullets at the Israeli soldiers. "However," he added, "we have devised ways not to hit the women and children in return fire."

Knafe said that Israel will not have an all-out war with the Palestinians. "The army sets limits on itself. We try to make as little violence as possible, so that our prime minister can think quietly about a peaceful settlement."

Sara Dovev, the mother of a fallen soldier, also spoke during the program. After her talk, members of the Entertainment Corps sang as a video presentation flashed pictures of soldiers who have died.

In an interview Dovev said that she had three sons who all served in the Israeli army.

Her middle son, Qir Dovev, 20, who served for two years, was killed in Lebanon on a night mission. "The situation in Israel is frustrating," she said. "I feel it is important to formulate an agreement separating the two nations, giving Palestinians recognition."

She also expressed concern that the Palestinians are turning their frustrations on the Israelis and that their leaders do not favor peace, as it doesn't serve their cause. "They think that they can achieve more as the underdog," she said.

"Hopefully they soon will have new leaders who will be reasonable people," she continued. "Then perhaps we can work together. Hope is what holds our Jewish nation together and has always made us survive."

Closing remarks and briefing on IDF activities were presented by Brig. Gen. Eliezer Hemeli, who was a combat officer for 25 years, and is now retired.

"There are more questions than answers during this time," Hemeli said in an interview. "Hopefully the future will bring us some answers."

Commenting on the morale of the combat troops, he said, "It was really amazing considering the situation. I can assure you the soldiers are strong, well trained and equipped."

He emphasized that solidarity and financial support worldwide for the IDF were two important goals of this tour. The support provides scholarships, a cultural center, programs for widows and orphans, and help for soldiers with no families. These needs are social, educational and cultural.

"The situation became extremely tough and complicated in the last three months," Hemeli said. "It has been a long struggle that can be overcome. We need to look to victory in diplomatic negotiations rather than in warfare."

Meanwhile at the JCC, the entertainers raised their voices in a combination of prayerful and upbeat songs, including a version of "Adon Olam" as well as a moving rendition of "Jerusalem of Gold," accompanied by a video presentation.

The program was sponsored by Friends of the IDF, the JCC, the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School and San Francisco Israel House.