Reut Friedman, Director, Maryland Chapter, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF)

Reut Friedman was traveling on FIDF business and was walking through Ben Gurion airport wearing her FIDF jacket when she heard, “Oh my G-d, I know FIDF, they helped me with my tuition for college,” and then, “FIDF, they helped me with vouchers during the chagim (holidays).”

And during that walk through the airport, Reut felt especially proud to be part of the FIDF system, fulfilling the mission of supporting Israeli soldiers by providing them and their families with educational, cultural and recreational opportunities and social services. “We are able to touch people and change their lives through FIDF. We focus on education, on spiritual needs, on financial needs.”

And those words are from a woman who was raised in a modern Orthodox family and knew from a very young age that she wanted and needed to serve in the IDF, feeling a connection and passion to serve the Jewish people. Choosing military service over two years of civil service, she joined the IDF and earned the rank of First Lieutenant, Gaza Strip District Coordinator and Liaison Head of Staff.

“A big influence on me is my grandparents.” Her father’s mother is a Holocaust survivor who survived Auschwitz and the death march and who grew up without family to give her support. She doesn’t share emotion easily. Reut’s mother’s family is sixth generation Israeli, and her mother grew up with a large family. “So they’re totally Israeli, and they are fluent in Arabic because all the neighbors were Arabs, from Safed, Jerusalem, Tiberias. So, this mishmash of two very different upbrings has made me who I am.”

Reut’s career aspiration was to be an ambassador. Following her stint in the IDF, she took a year to prepare for college and then enrolled in Bar-Ilan University, earning an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Communication. After a year in law school proved to her that she was not interested in becoming an attorney, she earned a master’s degree in Business Administration. Following a stint with a public relations firm, Reut accepted a job offer from Mifalot Education and Society Enterprises, the largest sports organization for development and peace in the Middle East. Mifalot uses sports, particularly soccer, to build new social groups and communities based on understanding, partnership, tolerance, recognition and acceptance of the other, and she “felt like this is where I need to be…it gave me a sense of purpose. For the first time, I felt I was making a difference.” And then her husband was offered a job for a tech company in Baltimore, and the rest is history.

“People in Baltimore were so welcoming…they gave me a chance…it was a leap of faith on their part!” Her first job was for the Center for Jewish Education (CJE) as a Senior Associate for Israel Engagement. “I will always cherish the fact that they believed in me and gave me the opportunity to work in this community. I was starting my career all over again in a new country, with a language that I had not mastered, with cultural differences to learn and with a husband in a new job and 3 children to get settled into school.” So, to adapt, she listened intently to those around her. “There is so much to learn from people here and around each of us…that is something that has profoundly change me. The Mishna tells you that silence is essential, and in coming to America, I could experience this for the first time.”

Ultimately, Reut was hired by FIDF as Director of its Maryland Chapter, her first professional position at the top of an organization. She and her professional team member, Development Associate Sivan Chaban, whom Reut describes as “just wonderful,” work with dedicated lay leaders and various FIDF committees. “It takes a village…and I have a wonderful village of board members and lay leaders who make the FIDF what it is…they have ideas and suggestions, they listen and I listen.”

For professional growth, she and some of her lay leaders have taken advantage of ACHARAI and DFI programs for lay and professional leadership development, and because the Maryland chapter of FIDF is part of that organization’s Eastern region, there is programming support and interface on a continuing basis. “During Covid, we felt isolated, and so a colleague of mine from Florida and I started monthly virtual meetings with the 25 FIDF Directors in the US, sharing ideas, resources and best practices and inviting speakers to lead professional development programs. And I can tell you that this has been so valuable that it will continue, even after Covid.”

When asked how she finds balance between work and the rest of her life, she laughs and answers, “I sleep less?” And then she responds with a thoughtful explanation. “My kids are older now (18, 16 and 12), so it’s easier to manage everything and they understand. And sometimes, if need to be, I take them to work and they help me. They know what FIDF does, and they’re part of whenever I have a program…they come with me, and they help set up…and I think that’s also a way to educate them to give back to the community…but also they can value that their mother has a life, and I work, that’s part of it and they appreciate it.” She also loves to work out, run and bike.

Every Erev Shabbat, Reut calls her grandparents & parents in Israel. At Shabbat dinner, she reads from Pirkei Avot and finds a quotation that inspires her to focus on the positive in challenging times. Recently, she read this citation from Rav Abraham Isaac Kook:

The pure righteous do not complain of the dark but increase the light;

They do not complain of evil but increase justice;

They do not complain of heresy but increase faith;

They do not complain of ignorance but increase wisdom.

And with these words, Reut and her family welcomed the Shabbat Bride.