Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) annual National Gala in New York raised over $24 million, as more than 1,200 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country gathered at New York’s historic Waldorf Astoria to demonstrate their love and support for Israel’s soldiers and FIDF.
The Head of the IDF Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, spoke in his keynote address about the current challenges facing Israel and the IDF’s preparation to defend Israel against these threats: “Syria has long ceased to be the state we all knew 4 years ago… One needs to take only a glimpse at their inner executions to understand why we must be prepared on the northern border. The maps of our area have been changing in front of our eyes. Borders drawn more than a century ago are being recklessly erased. The upheaval in the Middle East has turned into a religious struggle among armed factions… and we have been preparing ourselves to cope with a variety of extremely crude organizations that gradually take the lead.”
FIDF National Board Member Rabbi Peter Weintraub served as Dinner Chairman. Weintraub, who specializes in rabbinic outreach, has been an avid FIDF supporter for 12 years and has sponsored academic scholarships for over 70 IDF combat veterans through FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program.
“Over the dozen years that I’ve been involved in FIDF, I’ve been privileged to see how this organization makes a powerful difference in the lives of the brave men and women who defend and protect Israel – and the Jewish People,” said Rabbi Weintraub. “This Gala provided a wonderful, stirring opportunity for us to say thanks, and to stand proudly with them.”
Special guests included 30 IDF soldiers of various ranks and military units, including 2nd Lt. Enbal, an educational officer in the Artillery Corps, whose brother, 1st Sgt. Avi, z”l, was shot and killed in Bet Hanoun, near Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Addressing the audience, 2nd Lt. Enbal shared her personal memories of her brother, who posthumously received a citation for his bravery. Most of the soldiers who attended the Gala received citations for heroism, including in Operation Protective Edge and Operation Pillar of Defense.
Distinguished guests included the author and nationally syndicated radio host, Dr. Monica Crowley, who served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies; IDF’s 19th Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the U.S. and Canada Maj. Gen. Yaacob Ayish; and Consul General of Israel in New York Ido Aharoni.
Other prominent guests included FIDF National Chairman Nily Falic; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; Rabbi Weintraub and his wife, Ellen; FIDF Chairmen Emeritus Arthur Stark, Larry Hochberg, and Marvin Josephson; FIDF National Director and CEO Emeritus Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon; and FIDF National Board Member and YL-NY President Emeritus Tony Felzen.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, greeted the audience via satellite, and thanked them for their invaluable support for Israel’s soldiers.
$24 million was raised by the evening’s end. Notable among the donations was a $2 million anonymous matching gift made towards the FIDF Formal Education Program, which allows soldiers to complete 12 years of high-school education as part of their military service. In addition, $5 million was pledged by The Marcus Foundation with Nefesh B’Nefesh to benefit Lone Soldiers; $1.5 million was pledged by President of FIDF NY Young Leadership (YL) Lemor Bar-Or, on behalf of YL-NY; $1.3 million was pledged by Genesis Philanthropy Group North America; $1.2 million was pledged by the FIDF NY Real Estate Division; $1 million was pledged by Beit Morasha of Jerusalem for Identity and Purpose Programs; $1 million was pledged by Israeli Journey; $600,000 was pledged by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF); $500,000 was pledged by Hope for Heroism; $500,000 was pledged by Nily Falic; $400,000 was pledged by Joseph Weintraub, Rabbi Weintraub’s son; and $330,000 was pledged by former FIDF National Dinner Chairman Benny Shabtai.
Funds raised at the gala will provide much-needed and well-deserved services such as academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, financial support for underprivileged soldiers and Lone Soldiers from around the world, crucial aid for wounded veterans, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities.