The partnership between Israel and the United States extends far beyond the bounds of international diplomacy to reach even the smallest of communities—including those on the South Fork.For this year’s Soldier Ride, to be sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project on July 18, five wounded Israeli soldiers will cycle side by side with wounded American veterans between Amagansett and Sag Harbor. A primary goal of the ride is to remind the soldiers that, despite their injuries, strength is still very much a part of them.
The Israeli soldiers are coming to the East End through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Strides Program, which gives wounded Israeli soldiers the opportunity to live their lives without limitation by providing them with advanced prosthetics, allowing many to take up, or continue, athletic pursuits.
Founded by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide support to Israeli soldiers and their families, the FIDF is partnering with the Wounded Warrior Project for this year’s Soldier Ride, and it is the product of a long friendship. The two first partnered for the Soldier Ride eight years ago, when the Wounded Warrior Project was a much smaller organization. At that time, it brought in veteran Israeli soldiers from the Second Lebanon War, a 33-day war in which 121 Israeli soldiers and 44 Israeli civilians were killed while fighting Hezbollah.
“It was kind of love at first sight,” said Dan Haskell, the FIDF’s National Young Leadership director, referring to the first time the FIDF and Wounded Warrior Project worked together on an event. “We had a great experience.”
In 2010, and again in 2011, the FIDF and Wounded Warrior Project collaborated and actually took the Soldier Ride event to Israel, the first time the ride went to a location outside the United States. For this year’s Soldier Ride, the former Israel Defense Forces soldiers will come from a range of different battles, both older and more recent. “We have people, unfortunately, as young as 21,” Mr. Haskell said of the wounded Israeli soldiers who will be participating in this year’s event on the East End.
David Peretz, 1st Lieutenant of the Israel Defense Forces, lost his leg in a battle in Lebanon in 1985. He was an engineer officer and was trying to help an Israeli soldier who had gotten stuck in a minefield. When he tried to pull the soldier out, a mine detonated.
“To come over to the States and ride with the Wounded Warrior Project, it will be a great experience,” Mr. Peretz said. “I hope I’ll be able to teach them and tell them about the great country of Israel.”
The ride will be 25 miles and will start at Ocean View Farm in Amagansett. It will loop through both East Hampton and Sag Harbor, eventually making its way back to the starting point at the farm.
Ryan Greiss, whose firm represents FIDF, said the 25 miles gives ample time for the Israeli and American soldiers to form relationships. “It’s a bonding experience,” he said.
There will also be two other Soldier Rides, on July 16 and 17, in Manhattan and Babylon.