$26 Million Raised at Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) NYC Gala Dinner
By Henry Levy
If one had to choose just one major gala to attend, the hands down best of show would be the FIDF Gala. These "Friends" raised over $26 million in one night when over 1,300 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered at the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for the FIDF National NY Gala Dinner, demonstrating their love and support for the soldiers of Israel. Among the distinguished guests who attended were FIDF National Director Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; FIDF National Chairman Nily Falic; FIDF Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attache to the U.S. and Canada Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni; Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein; and Israeli-American luxury fashion designer Elie Tahari. Mr. Benny Shabtai chaired the dinner for his 15th year, and author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley once again served as the evening's Master of Ceremonies.
In light of recent developments in Israel, the guests were joined by Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, IDF Chief of the General Staff, who was the keynote speaker at the event. In his speech, given directly from southern Israel via live-satellite, he referred to the current situation of attacks, "The Iron dome and active defense systems that we have now are a serious and historical milestone. I think we did right and we will do it in the future as well," he explained. Gantz also mentioned that the IDF hunted down 22 terrorists over the last 3 days in the Gaza strip. In his final remarks, Gantz thanked the attendees for their partnership with the IDF soldiers, "This is very important for us to know that we are not alone."
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the audience from Israel regarding current affairs and expressed his appreciation for the great work of both Israel's soldiers and their supporters in the US. "The Jewish State has the capacity to resist attacks. The Israeli army is the guarantor of our future and the reason for our existence. Thank you for standing by us," Netanyahu said.
One of the evening's highlights included a video from Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier released last October after five years of captivity by Hamas in Gaza, where he thanked the American Jewry for their support while he was held as a prisoner by Hamas and mentioned that it warmed his heart and helped him to overcome a very difficult period.
Benny Shabtai was masterful in helping establish the record setting money raised. Notable among the donations was $9.25 million dollars pledged by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder and President of the IFCJ; $500,000 from the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF); National Young Leadership President Tony Felzen pledged $180,000 on behalf of his family, as part of the Young Leadership total $1.1 million; National Chairman Nily Falic pledged $500,000; and an American Astronaut, Col. Paul Lockhart surprised the audience by pledging support of $1,000 and the grandson of General George Patton pledged $5,000.
Monica Crowley interviewed some of brave soldiers from the Maglan unit live where it was 3:00AM Israel time. It was mesmerizing hearing them explain their mission. One intelligence officer, confined to a wheelchair because he was severely injured and wad totally paralyzed is now back in action as a sniper instructor. Another told us that he personally intercepted four rockets meant for civilians in big cities. We learned he was an amateur magician in his spare time and said, "My best trick is making enemy rockets disappear." Then we were introduced to Dave [from Long Island] and three other men in hiding doing surveillance. It was a surprise when Dave's mom and dad, who were at the event had an opportunity to talk with him. His mother said, "Daddy and I are very happy to see you get along well with the other boys. We miss you and hope you come home safe. One more thing - Bubbe's birthday is Friday." Dave replied, "Got it."
The evening culminated with the heartfelt words shared by bereaved mother, Mir Hadassi, who tragically lost her son Yonatan Hadassi Z"L in 2006 at the onset of the Second Lebanon War, while serving in the Special Forces Unit of Maglan. The war started after two IDF soldiers were kidnapped near the Lebanon border. Yonaton, who was leading his unit into Lebanon was the killed immediately as he discovered an enemy bunker. The night before he was called to battle, his mother, Mir said to him "I love you. He said, I love you too ima [mother]. Those would be the last words I ever heard him say." When she saw her young son buried, she broke down in tears. She concluded her very emotional remarks by saying, "Today I worry about our lovely daughters and young men. Soldiers that are here tonight, we don't take your service for granted, we are blessed with an amazing country and you are the very best part. It's been six years since Yonaton was killed but the joy he gave us is as big today as when he was alive."
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.
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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 15 regional offices throughout the US 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.
To learn more about this amazing organization visit their website www.fidf.org or contact them at 212-244-3118 to make a pledge or volunteer your services.