Elior Brenner (Left) and Katie Freeman (holding dog, right), former IDF Soldiers who served in the Oketz canine unit, both shared their stories with Jewish students in Memphis via video conferencing.
Jewish Agency emissary Aviezer Gellman wanted to bring Israel home to the Jewish community in Memphis. And so he launched a series of video conferences via Skype so that American students can meet "face-to-face" with Israeli citizens.
On November 22, 2009, one such video encounter took place between Jewish day school students in Memphis, Tennessee, and two former IDF soldiers and new immigrants to Israel. Both Katie Freeman and Elior Brenner served in the Oketz canine unit, which works training dogs in the IDF.
Freeman and Brenner shared their life stories with the students, and described their process of Aliyah and absorption in Israel.
The students back in Memphis showed great interest in the soldiers’ personal stories, and asked a variety of questions about their lives and their military service.
Freeman is a former “lone soldier” (soldier without family in Israel) who moved to Israel from Los Angeles. At one point during her military service in the Oketz combat unit she and her dog, Bondo, uncovered explosive materials that were intended to enter Israel, and thus saved the lives of untold numbers of Israeli civilians. The discovery of these materials earned her unit a special medal of honor from the IDF.
Brenner, also a former “lone soldier,” immigrated to Israel from France. Before making Aliyah, she visited Israel several times through various Jewish Agency programs, and she later decided to move to Israel and enlist in the IDF. She enlisted through the “Garin Tzabar” group together with other similarly driven youths. Although Brenner never thought about being a combat soldier, in the end she decided to try out for the Oketz unit.
As soldiers serving without family in Israel, Freeman and Brenner received assistance from the Jewish Agency. They also studied in the Agency’s "Wings" course, which prepares immigrant soldiers for their release from the IDF.
The multi-faceted "Wings" program, a joint initiative of the Jewish Agency and the Merage Foundation, gives lone immigrant soldiers support and guidance before and immediately after they are discharged.
The Wings program provides every lone combat soldier with an immediate "Landing on their Feet" grant of $500. This assists them with their initial living expenses until they receive their discharge grant from the army.