The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National New York City Gala Dinner was held on Tuesday evening, March 11th at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where more than 1,400 prominent leaders from across the country gathered to stand in solidarity and support of the soldiers of Israel. The evening’s keynote speaker was Lt. General Benny Gantz, the IDF Chief of Staff.
“The FIDF National NY Gala Dinner pays tribute to the remarkable soldiers who take part in the IDF’s renowned military operations,” said FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon. “Our objective is to give FIDF supporters an exclusive glimpse into the lives and daily activities of the brave men and women defending the Jewish homeland.”
During the cocktail hour, guests from around the world mingled with an extensive array of IDF personnel of various ranks; including captains, majors and generals, among others. As guests entered the grand dining hall to be served a lavish dinner costing a minimum of $1,000 a plate, an attendee could be heard telling a group of young IDF soldiers, “You protect us. Our job is to write the checks.”
In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Voice, Arthur Stark, FIDF Chairman Emeritus and President of Beth Bath & Beyond said that “The IDF is the backbone of Israeli society and Israel is the backbone of the Jewish world. So there’s nothing we can do that’s more valuable to support the soldiers who protect Israel and Jewish people all over the world.”
Barbara Winston of Harry Winston Jewelers is a philanthropist and daughter of Holocaust survivors. She explained why she was at the gala event Tuesday night, showing her support for the soldiers in attendance and those defending the Jewish homeland in Israel.: “The future of Israel rests with those marvelous young people. God bless the youth who are condemned actually to protect Israel and the rest of the world.”
Few in attendance know the struggles young IDF soldiers go through while serving abroad, and appreciate the need for an organization like FIDF, like Michael Miller, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Both had children serving in the IDF at one point – Miller a son, and Boteach, a daughter.
“When my son was stationed in the Gaza Strip, he got support from friends of the IDF when he didn’t have his parents with him in Israel at the time,” Miller said proudly.
Boteach did not mince words when defending his support of the IDF and FIDF: “The IDF is the only reason the Jews in the Middle East have not been massacred. They are not just the front line of defense, they are the only defense. This is one of the most important Jewish events of the year!”
CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld echoed not only Boteach’s sentiments but those of the many in attendance who are frustrated with what they see as the world’s refusal to take threats to Israel’s security seriously. “The IDF is the insurance policy of the Jewish people and right now we can’t rely on our elected officials to compel the current administration in Washington to do what’s right, to take Iran seriously. We need to rely on our soldiers and the state of Israel to save Israel. That’s why everyone is here. The IDF is our last resort and our only resort,” he insisted.
President and CEO of Israel Bonds, Israel (Izzy) Tapoohi approached the subject of why he was lending his support to the FIDF’s cause from an economic perspective. “It’s important to show the world, including the BDS movement, that Israel is not alone, and we have no intention of letting Israel’s economy go down the drain.”
Other special guests at Tuesday night’s gala included senior IDF officials, such as Lt. Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF’s 19th Chief of the General Staff, more than 30 soldiers and officers from various IDF units as well as soldiers from the United States Armed Forces. Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was a guest of honor as well.
In his keynote address, Israel Defense Forces Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told guests that Israel’s “enemies” are building a “bustling industry of terror” that they are trying to conceal while presenting another face to the West.
National Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark served as the Gala Chairman, and author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
“Our enemies are weaving a web of deceit that allows them to make unprecedented complex strides – a web which they go to great lengths to conceal, but we go to greater lengths to uncover,” Gantz told FIDF supporters. “We see them, we hear them, we recognize them, and most important of all, we act with boldness, innovation and courage to stop them anywhere, in any way and at any time.”
Gantz also spoke of the “deep and eternal commitment” between Israel and the United States, which he said fosters strong operational ties between the two countries’ armed forces. The relationship is “based on shared values, almost identical interests and a similar social and political structure, creating commitment in the struggle for peace and security,” he said.
Among the distinguished guests in attendance were FIDF National Chairman, Nily Falic; FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the U.S. and Canada, Maj. Gen. Yaacob Ayish; Israel Air Force Attaché and Deputy Defense Attaché to the U.S. and Canada, Brig. Gen. Yakov Shaharabani; IDF Spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz; the President of the New York Yankees, Randy Levine and his wife, Mindy; American real estate tycoon and media proprietor, Mort Zuckerman; American sex therapist, media personality, and author, Dr. Ruth Westheimer; and Executive Director of the FIDF Tri-State Region, Richard Goldstein.
“The IDF soldiers stand ready to do what it takes to protect the State of Israel and the Jewish people – wherever they may be. They do it willingly, they do it with an incredible pride and passion and, often, they do it at great personal sacrifice,” said Arthur Stark. “FIDF is a unique organization that tells these brave men and women, our sons and daughters who proudly wear the IDF uniform that we recognize that passion, we recognize that sacrifice, we recognize that devotion, and we stand with them.”
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, greeted the audience via satellite, and thanked them for their invaluable support for Israel’s soldiers. Guests then were treated to a special surprise when the Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, together with a group of combat pilots, joined via live satellite from Israel and simulated a complex Air Force operation.
$20 million dollars was raised by the evening’s end. Notable among the donations was $2 million pledged by FIDF National Chairman, Nily Falic, and family, $1.5 million pledged by President of FIDF NY Young Leadership (YL), Lemor Bar-Or, on behalf of YL-NY; $1 million pledged by National Board Member and former FIDF Chairman Benny Shabtai; $1 million pledged by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF); $1 million pledged by Genesis Philanthropy Group North America; and $500,000 pledged by Stuart Rahr.
For those who could not be present at the event, a special video hookup was arranged for those individuals pledging significant contributions so that they may send their special greetings and add their notable remarks. Among them was FIDF national board member Benny Shabtai who sent his heartfelt message of stalwart support to the brave men and women serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Many at the gala, however, expressed dismay that Mr. Shabtai only contributed $1 million to this cause which is closest to his heart, in light of the fact that he earned close to $500 million for his 55.2% stake in the Israeli telecoms startup company known as Viber, which is set to be acquired by Japan’s Rakuten for $900 million.
The evening culminated with heartfelt words shared by Yael Schiffenbauer, the widow of helicopter pilot Daniel Shiffenbauer, a former Squadron Commander in the IDF Air Force who was killed during military exercises in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in 2010. In her speech, she spoke about losing her beloved husband and the father of their three sons, and the healing support offered to her family in their time of grief.
Richard Goldstein, FIDF Executive Director of the Tri-State Region said in a statement to The Jewish Voice: “The soldiers in uniform provide a service on behalf of all who support the Jewish homeland, from bravely standing guard on the front lines to selflessly addressing humanitarian needs around the world. They willingly and passionately serve their country and often pay a steep price for their service. FIDF’s job is to tell their story of sacrifice and commitment, care for their needs, and ensure that they never stand alone.”
He added that, “The 2014 National NY Gala Dinner was a powerful demonstration of support from the members of our community. Funds raised that evening will deeply impact the daily lives of these brave men and women – providing financial assistance for their basic needs, scholarships for their advanced education and emotional support in their toughest hours – enabling the next generation of Israeli leaders to reach their fullest potential.”
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.
The Friends of the IDF is a 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. Established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors as a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization, today the FIDF has more than 120,000 loyal supporters, and 15 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 the State of Israel.