$27 million was raised Tuesday night at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National NY Gala Dinner, where over 1,400 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered at the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to demonstrate their love and support for the soldiers of Israel. FIDF Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark was the chair of the Gala, and author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
Among the distinguished guests in attendance were FIDF National Chairman, Nily Falic; FIDF National President, Julian Josephson; FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; Former IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Founder and President of The International Fellowship of Christian and Jews, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein; Israeli-American luxury fashion designer, Elie Tahari; President of the New York Yankees, Randy Levine and his wife, Mindy; American real estate tycoon and media proprietor, Mort Zuckerman; and American intimate relationship therapist, media personality, and author, Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
One of the evening’s outstanding guests included Cpt. Ziv Shilon, a 25-year-old commander of the Givati Brigade, who just a couple of months ago was badly injured in a Hamas attack near the Gaza security fence, when an explosive device went off. Cpt. Shilon was also joined at the Gala by more than 30 soldiers and officers from various IDF units as well as soldiers from the United States Armed Forces, including Maj. Justin Constantine, a wounded U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Notable among the $27 million in donations was $5 million pledged by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder and President of International Fellowship of Christian and Jews; $1 million pledged by the Genesis Philanthropy Group; $130,000 pledged by Elie Tahari; $100,000 pledged by American real estate tycoon and media proprietor Mort Zuckerman; $1.08 million pledged by FIDF National Board Member, Harry Gross; $1.3 million pledged by National Board Member and Young Leadership Chairman Tony Felzen on behalf of FIDF NY Young Leadership; and the Major League Baseball and the Yankee Foundation purchased dinner sponsorships.
The evening culminated with the heartfelt words shared by bereaved mother, Nelly Barak, who tragically lost her son, Hanan Barak Z”L, who was a tank commander, in 2006. Hanan and another soldier were killed when a group of terrorists fired an RPG at his tank and then abducted his soldier, Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier released last October after five years of captivity by Hamas in Gaza. “He looked after us,” Mrs. Barak said emotionally, recalling the wealth of support she received from neighbors, the prime minister and hundreds of others. “He made a difference.”
The funds raised during the evening will provide much needed and well-deserved services such as academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, financial support for soldiers in-need and Lone Soldiers from around the world, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities. The evening was a rare and exclusive opportunity to pay tribute to the State of Israel and to send a message of love and support to the brave men and women in uniform.
“We’re here for the human side,” fashion designer Tahari told The Jerusalem Post. Growing up in the Israeli social services system, Tahari’s childhood in Jerusalem greatly formed his support for Israel’s security. “We’re here because they provide a place for orphans like me,” he said.
While Friends of the Israel Defense Forces does not provide funds for specific army operations or finance the purchasing of weapons or strategic equipment, the organization does seek to care for the essential life needs of the young men and women who serve in the Israeli military, providing them with workshops, scholarships, food vouchers, furniture, flights, support groups, and focused rest and recreation.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor explained that the gala is “the number one event” for Israel in New York, noting that Israel is to a great degree closely identified with its defense forces, as the majority of its citizens spend some significant time serving in its ranks.
The presenters spent much of the evening focusing on the IDF’s work tracking down Fajr-5 missiles that have been emanating from Iran during the past year. The guests got to view a map of the route Iran utilizes to smuggle those lethal missiles into Gaza – traveling around the Arabian peninsula, then into the horn of Africa and through Egypt – marked by a red dotted line.
The massive audience erupted in huge applause when they were shown a black and white video of the assassination of the terrorist Ahmed Jabari last November. In the ensuing live caucus, a number of the guests publicly pledged gifts ranging from $1,800 to $1,500,000.
“I’m pretty amazed at the amount of support here,” said Lt. Yitzhak Goldberg, who serves in the IDF’s 188th Armored Brigade, who has been visiting Jewish sites in New York. “You feel a armth here that you don’t get at home all the time, where everyone’s in the army.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, put the spotlight on FIDF’s Lone Soldiers program, which offers support for enlistees from foreign countries who have no close family members in Israel, as an example of the organization’s outstanding work. “It’s an emotional and personal experience to be a part of this, and it’s a recognition of Israel’s ongoing security challenges,” Hoenlein emphasized.
FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing and supporting educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for the heroic men and women of the IDF. Today, FIDF has more than 120,000 loyal supporters, and 17 regional offices throughout the U.S. and Panama. FIDF proudly offers its support to the IDF soldiers and their families through a variety of unique and innovative programs. These opportunities reinforce the vital bond between the communities in the United States, the soldiers of the IDF, and theState of Israel.
PHOTOS CREDIT: Shahar Azran