This story was originally published in the Jewish Herald-Voice

The lifesaving, humanitarian work performed by Israeli soldiers around the world is being spotlighted at this year’s local Friends of the IDF gala.

Titled “A Year of Heroes & Hope,” the 2018 FIDF Texas Gala will take place Monday evening, April 30, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel Houston, 2222 West Loop S. Reception begins at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and program at 7. Kosher dietary laws will be observed.

The program will feature a presentation by 2nd Lt. Shahar (last name withheld for security reasons), the youngest and only female member of a team of IDF first-responders, who performed lifesaving work in Mexico this past summer, following a devastating earthquake. The gala’s keynote speaker is former IDF combat medic Bernard Bar-Natan, inventor of The Emergency Bandage, a first-aid device used to stop bleeding from hemorrhagic wounds in pre-hospital emergency situations. After proving its effectiveness in Israel, the device since has been widely adopted by civilian and military emergency services in the U.S.

“This year’s gala promises to be an evening of gratitude, hope and fulfillment for the State of Israel and those who defend her,” said Polly Robinson, who is co-chairing the 2018 FIDF Texas Gala with her husband, Ralph Robinson, along with Suzy and Jack Schaffer.

“The FIDF gala is unique as we bring Israeli soldiers – heroes – to share their stories of selfless determination to defend Israel and her people,” Robinson said. “We hear their personal stories of triumph and tragedy, and their passion for defending their country.

“We also learn about the culture of serving and life afterwards, and how the Friends of the IDF has impacted their lives,” she said. “It is rewarding to be a part of this organization, to give generously to help support the existence of Israel by contributing funds to FIDF.”

FIDF is the only organization of its kind. The non-political, non-military nonprofit works closely with the Israel Defense Forces to look after the welfare and well-being of those who serve in the IDF.

“We find out what the soldiers need, what their battalions need, and we respond through our programs to their needs,” said Danny Gutman, executive director of FIDF Texas.

“We have nothing to do with politics or advocacy,” Gutman said. “We’re strictly focused on the soldiers and helping them with their needs, whether it’s through wellness programs, social services or education.”

This past year, FIDF raised more than $127 million, which the organization used to improve the lives of more than 80,000 soldiers, veterans and their families. Funds raised at this year’s FIDF Texas Gala will be used to support programs, such as FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program, which provides full college scholarships to combat and combat-support soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as FIDF’s Lone Soldiers Program, which cares for the needs of individuals, who leave the comforts of family and community behind and choose to go to Israel and serve in the IDF.

“When you support our programs, like IMPACT!, you have the opportunity to meet the people you’re helping and build long-lasting friendships with them,” Gutman said. “That person-to-person connection is what makes FIDF special.”

The theme of this year’s gala is timely, according to FIDF Texas board chair, Max Blankfeld.

“Being a few months after Houston’s community, in general, and the Jewish community, in particular, went through its most devastating disaster [Hurricane Harvey], where we’ve seen acts of heroism and when the hope and determination to overcome this situation never faded away, we thought that nothing would be more appropriate than to have an FIDF gala that brought stories of ‘Heroes & Hope’ in celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary,” Blankfeld told the JHV.

“After all, Israel, herself, is a story of heroes and hope,” he said. “Heroes who on a daily basis protect the Jewish state with the hope for better days, and actually go beyond that mission by also extending their helping hand to populations around the world that have been hit by their own catastrophes, and bringing them hope by the way of rescue missions or medical assistance.”

Blankfeld noted that gala presenter, 2nd Lt. Shahar is a search-and-rescue officer, who served in a special home front command battalion that was “adopted” by FIDF.

“Being adopted means offering its soldiers support for all of their immediate needs, and the opportunity to unwind from their difficult training and responsibilities,” Blankfeld said. “They are able to enjoy activities, such as holiday ceremonies and events, recreational activities and special days of fun and leisure with their fellow soldiers.”

The gala’s keynote speaker has his own story to share, after his invention was used to save the life of a U.S. lawmaker, who was shot during a public appearance in her home state of Arizona in 2011.

“Everybody knows about the bandage that was instrumental in saving Congresswoman Gaby Giffords,” Blankfeld said. “But, few know the story of the man that was behind the development of this bandage.

“A former IDF combat medic, who made aliyah in 1979, will tell us how the idea came about, and how his bandage is now saving lives not only in the Israeli and U.S. armies, but also among the civil population,” he said.

Gutman added that Houstonians were among the early investors of The Emergency Bandage, and that the device was used for the first time at a military base in Texas.

“[Bar-Natan] has a real connection to Texas, which then led to millions of lives being saved,” Gutman said.

Robinson said, “It is especially exciting to introduce the IDF soldiers to a community that so proudly and generously supports them. It is equally rewarding to hear of the positive impact our dollars are making by hearing the stories of active and veteran soldiers who are thriving.

“It is incredible the successes of this year’s speakers and their contributions to the world, both in the military and as private citizens,” she said.

In celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary, Gutman noted that it’s important to recognize that the modern Jewish state was built by those who serve in the IDF.

“The soldiers put everything on the line everyday to protect Israel and help others around the world,” Gutman said.

“There are many people who have helped make Israel what it is today, but they all connect through the IDF,” he said. “The innovations and lifesaving work that Israelis provide to the rest of the world, that all comes from their time in the IDF.”