At a time when Israel finds itself faced with challenges at home and abroad, and IDF soldiers fight to protect the lives of the Jewish people, in New York City, a different kind of campaign is being waged. Elegantly dressed in tuxedos and gowns, 1,300 community leaders and top philanthropists came together to raise a near-record high of $26 million at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) dinner in New York City.
One of the largest donations to the IDF was a $9.25 million contribution by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), more than doubling last year’s $4 million donation.
The event featured a special video message by freed IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who thanked the guests for their support and prayers during his captivity.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the audience from Jerusalem, saying that “the IDF is the basis for our existence and is the guarantee for our future… Today, now that we have a country, and we have a strong army, we have the capability to stand up against attacks on the Jewish nation – a capability that is embodied in the IDF and in Israel’s security services.”
“The Jewish State has the capacity to resist attacks. The Israeli army is the guarantor of our future. Thank you for standing by us,” The PM added.
IDF Chief of Benny Gantz was scheduled to address the event, but the latest escalation between Israel and Gaza forced the Israeli Defense chief to stay on the front line overseeing Israel’s response to the rocket barrage.
Speaking via satellite from an Iron Dome battery base protecting the city of Ashdod, Lt. Gen Gantz told the crowd that the reason he had to cancel his planned visit to the United States was last weeks’ killing of Jihad Islamic terrorist leader Zuhair Qaisi. “In Israel we had to operate against this Qaisi guy’,” he said. “As a result, obviously, they started to fire at civilians.”
“We acted appropriately in recent days,” Gantz explained, combining a defensive and offensive balance. “If the fire continues, we will retaliate. And we will act similarly in the future.”
Gantz also spoke about the successes of the Iron Dome short range missile-defense system, which intercepted over 85 percent of its targets. “The Iron dome and active defense systems that we have now is a serious and historical milestone. It hasn’t been done before.”
He thanked the supporters and friends of IDF for their continued support and contributions. “This is very important for us to know that we are not alone.” Gantz concluded his remarks by indicating, “We are operating all over, on behalf of the state of Israel and on behalf of the Jewish people worldwide.”
A star of Tuesday night’s dinner was – a combat soldier named Doron who operates one of the Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in Maglan and appeared alongside Gantz in the satellite broadcast promising the crowd, “I can say fully heartily, Next time they decide to shoot us, we will be ready.” With him was another soldier, Dave, originally from Long Island, at the hills of Lachish military training exercise camp. Dave’s parents were in attendance and surprised him with a personal, emotional greeting, breaking into tears, his mom urged him to “stay and come home safe.”
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide for the wellbeing of the men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as well as the families of fallen soldiers. The FIDF initiates and helps support educational, social, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. The FIDF also provides support for the families of fallen soldiers.
In 2010, Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of charities, awarded Friends of the IDF the highest 4-star rating for the fifth consecutive year. According to Charity Navigator, only 5% of the charities it has rated have received at least 5 consecutive 4-star evaluations, “indicating that Friends of the Israel Defense Forces consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way, and outperforms most other charities in America. This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Friends of the Israel Defense Forces from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
The FIDF, Headquartered in New York City is led by Maj. General Yithak (Jerry) Gershon as the National director and Nily Falic as chairman.