Over 1,300 prominent members of the FIDF community came together to raise a record-breaking $33.1 million to support educational and well-being programs for the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The evening’s theme was “Standing together, serving each other,” and the event featured a riveting program that included a keynote address by Israel’s minister of defense and former vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, and honored business magnates, philanthropists, and steadfast supporters of Israel, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson. The evening was emceed by Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman.
Defenders of Israel
Honoring their exceptional lifelong philanthropy and support for a variety of causes in the U.S. and Israel, FIDF awarded the inaugural “Defenders of Israel” award to Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, who are among the foremost names in Jewish philanthropy in modern Jewish history. “My wife, Miriam, and I are truly honored to accept this award from FIDF,” said Sheldon G. Adelson.
“Advocating for Israel and caring for the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are the causes closest to our hearts. Today, more than ever, we must support our family – the people of Israel. That is why we are proud to stand here tonight in solidarity with these courageous defenders of the Jewish homeland.”
Later in the evening, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson pledged a generous $10 million gift towards FIDF’s education and wellbeing programs.
“We strive for peace while they strive for war.”
In his keynote address, Minister of Defense Ya’alon, who has held many ranks and positions in the IDF, reflected on Israel’s standing in the volatile Middle East: “Even as Israel has become a global leader in so many fields, we are still embroiled in the battle for our independence. We are surrounded by several nations and entities that have yet to accept the existence of a Jewish homeland – we strive for peace while they strive for war.”
Ya’alon also discussed his meeting Monday with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on the U.S. military aid package to Israel, and said the U.S. remains “our ally and strategic cornerstone.” He said, “We spoke about just how strong the ties are between our two countries and how much we value this special relationship. This unique bond between FIDF and its American supporters, the Israel Defense Forces, and the people of Israel is exemplified here tonight. Israel has no greater friend than the United States of America,” he said.
Yaalon also thanked the FIDF gala participants: “On behalf of the State of Israel, I want to thank you, our supporters, from the bottom of my heart for your endless commitment to the well-being of our soldiers.”
Standing up for what he believes in
We were honored to be joined by Lt. Col. Shai Siman Tov, commander of Golani Battalion 12. Shai, who was critically wounded in a tunnel collapse in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, had been told by doctors that he would remain paralyzed for the rest of his life. However, Shai was resolved to one day put on his uniform and walk again.
Then, last night, he did exactly that. Raising himself from his wheelchair and standing in front of 1,300 captivated supporters, Shai thanked FIDF supporters for standing with IDF soldiers and told them that he and his fellow soldiers will, despite the dangers, continue to carry out their mission “until the day that we achieve our ultimate goal, which is and will always be peace with our neighbors.”
Remembering a trailblazer
FIDF supporters were moved by the emotional story of Anat Ariel, the mother of the first female religious navigator in the Israeli Air Force, Tamar Ariel Z”L. Anat recalled Tamar’s childhood, her determination and excellence in the Israeli Air Force, her heroism and tragic death, and her enduring legacy.
Anat recalled how she wasn’t surprised how, even after completing her two-year National Service, Tamar decided to do more for her country and enlist as a soldier in the IDF. She wasn’t surprised when she passed months of grueling tests to be accepted into the IAF flight academy, or when she finally graduated and received her wings in December of 2012. After serving for three years at the flight academy, Tamar signed for another nine years as a combat navigator at the Jezreel Valley squadron, dreaming of one day teaching aspiring pilots as a flight academy instructor. During Operation Protective Edge, Tamar gave her all to defend Israel from the air. After the operation, Tamar and her friends traveled to Nepal to take a well-deserved hiking vacation. Tragedy struck when a horrible snowstorm hit. “We lost contact,” said Anat. “We feared the worst.”
“On the evening of October 14th, after long hours of struggling in the snow, Tamar lost her life to hypothermia. We heard that under the terrible conditions of the storm, Tamar had become the company commander of her group. She shouted out orders, cleared paths, and warmed the bodies of the friends she was determined to save. Thanks to Tamar, two young women are alive today.”
But, Tamar’s legacy lives on. Shortly after her death, she was named the outstanding soldier of her squadron. Tamar’s brother Yair serves in a Special Forces unit, and another brother – Jonathan – is following in Tamar’s shoes, and has just become a pilot himself.
Anat concluded by thanking FIDF supporters for their dedication: When you commit to FIDF, she said, “you are signing on to support me, my husband, my children, and all of our men and women in uniform and their families. You are standing together in times of joy and times of sorrow. And you are remembering Tamar. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”