Magen Am expands to protect Jews throughout America with lone soldier veterans program.
By Joseph Wolkin
Leibel Mangel is a man on multiple missions. The former Israel Defense Forces soldier is kickstarting a new program with Magen Am, an armed Los Angeles-based Jewish group that takes security into its own hands.
Mangel is the director of Magen Am’s lone soldier veterans program. This new effort will not only help ex-lone soldiers to adjust upon returning home, but also use their security expertise for the benefit of the Jewish community.
This new group within Magen Am will serve Jewish communities across the country, with guards heading to synagogues, Jewish centers and Jewish schools. Magen Am translates to “Nation’s Shield,” and that was seen first-hand during early June riots in Los Angeles, when the guards protected the area’s synagogues.
Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, is the director of Magen Am. He believes that now is the time, more than ever, to provide enhanced security to the American Jewish community, as anti-Semitic attacks have reached frightening levels. The organization launched a GoFundMe campaign, which aims to raise $50,000. The program is valued at $25,000 per soldier each year.
Mangel, who grew up in Cincinnati and completed his IDF service in 2015. discussed the new initiative with United with Israel.
How did you encounter Magen Am?
“About seven or eight months ago, I was in Los Angeles, and I was introduced to Yossi Eilfort. I had been working in the security industry in Cincinnati. We were looking for ways to collaborate at the time. In that meeting, we sat down and discussed this need to get lone soldiers involved… It fills the needs of the lone soldier veteran community as well as the security of the Jewish community. I got married – my wife is from Los Angeles – and we moved here [Los Angeles], and now I’m heading up this program.”
Why is this program important?
“There are two aspects to it. Many lone soldier veterans, like me, come back to the United States after our military service, and the reintegration process is a struggle. There is no clear sense of direction for many of us, or guidance, or a support system. In Israel, we had this tremendous responsibility of protecting Jewish life, Israel’s borders and her citizens. We come back to the States and that responsibility is taken away from us.
“Many people struggle with that. There’s a rise in drug overdose in the lone soldiers veteran community, as well as suicides. They need structure and guidance to get on the right path, giving them a foundation to succeed for the rest of their lives. This program will allow them to continue their sworn mission of serving and protecting Jewish life – here in the United States instead of Israel.
“The second need this program fills is to better protect the Jewish community. As we know, the threats, attacks and civil unrest against our community are on the rise. Many organizations like Magen Am have stepped up with civilian volunteers, putting them through training. Our most skilled and qualified protectors live within our community, but we’re not utilizing them. Why not allow soldiers to continue their training and use real-world experiences on the battlefield to be the first line of defense for the Jewish community?”
What’s the plan going forward for this program, which is starting from scratch?
“The program’s structure will be split up into three phases. The first phase will take about two months. We’re hoping to get about 10-14 soldiers in every single class. In the first two-month period, they’ll be heavily focused on security training and personal development side. Every Jewish community has its specific needs, and the rules and regulations of the security environment are a little different than in Israel and in a military environment. We’ll be focusing on getting soldiers mental-health counseling, life coaching, and allowing CEOs to come speak to soldiers and help them figure out what they want to do next in life.
They can continue [in the next phase] in the security industry, or maybe someone has an interest in finance and can build a relationship with a financial CEO. If there are two soldiers working at a Jewish day school, we’ll introduce them to their job sites as we get them the proper licensing and certification.
“Phase III is working at those jobs full time, whether it’s a synagogue, school, Jewish business, or patrols through neighborhoods. It’s the last nine months of a 12-month program… At the end of the 12 months, they can decide to stay in the security industry and make it a full-time career, whether in Magen Am or another organization. They can say they have a solid foundation and are ready to move on to a university. Or they can utilize one of the connections they’ve made to transfer into another industry.”
What cities are you targeting first?
“The first run will be based here in Los Angeles. The goal is…to send them out to different Jewish communities. The major ones will be the first – New York, Chicago, Miami … We want to send soldiers to every Jewish community. When they finish their program, we might say [for example] we need two guards in Miami, who’s interested? The base will be in Los Angeles, but we’ll create branches throughout the country and provide the best possible security for the Jewish community.”
Regarding security at schools, is there concern that children might feel intimidated by someone who’s armed?
“It will be done in a way that kids will be protected, but we don’t want them to feel like they’re walking into a military base. Many schools already have guards on the premises. We’ll make sure the kids feel welcome and comfortable. It’s the new reality in the world that we can’t just sit by and leave our schools unprotected. Threats continue to rise. It will all be done in conjunction with the school and making sure the security needs are met, as well as [with] sensitivity, making sure parents and children are in a comfortable environment.”
How can communities that feel a need for additional protection sign up and get involved in this program?
“They can either visit magenamusa.org or reach out to me directly at email@example.com. We’re happy to field any questions, even if it’s just someone who is reaching out on how to best protect their community. We can give basic tips on how to get started, even if it’s not with this program specifically.
“The goal is to provide protection and security for the entire Jewish community in the whole country. All Jews should feel safe going to synagogue. They should feel confident that when they drop their kids off at school, they will be there later in the day to pick them up. We’re getting the conversation started and empowering the community to understand that we’re ultimately our first line of defense. We can’t just rely on outside sources to protect us.
“If you look at our history — and not just our Jewish history — it’s ultimately that we’re our own protectors. This program is another step in the right direction of controlling our narrative and putting our future into our own hands.”
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