More than 1,200 supporters attended the FIDF Western Region Gala, which raised a record $60 million for the well-being of Israeli soldiers, and celebrated Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) raised $60 million at its annual Western Region Gala on Thursday, Nov. 1, held at the landmark Beverly Hilton Hotel. The figure represents the most money raised at any single FIDF event in the organization’s history. The sold-out gala, which has become one of Los Angeles’ premier charitable events, united over 1,200 supporters from across the country to support the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

(From left to right) Gerard Butler, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Joelle and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and daughter Yael Eckstein with IDF soldiers at the FIDF Western Region Gala – Shahar Azran
(From left to right) Gerard Butler, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Joelle and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and daughter Yael Eckstein with IDF soldiers at the FIDF Western Region Gala – Shahar Azran

For the 12th year, FIDF National Board Member and major supporter Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, chaired the star-studded gala. Guests included prominent business, philanthropic, and political leaders and celebrated names in entertainment, fashion, sports, and technology, including Ashton Kutcher; Pharrell Williams; Gerard Butler; Andy Garcia; Fran Drescher; Ziggy Marley; David Foster; Katharine McPhee; David Draiman; A. C. Green; Ralph Sampson; Robert Horry; Josh Flag; Israeli actress and star of hit Netflix show Fauda Rona-Lee Shim'on; Israeli actor Yaakov Zada Daniel, also of Fauda and an FIDF IMPACT! scholarship recipient; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; business magnates and philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, Serge Azria and Florence Azria; Managing Member of R.H. Book LLC and Chairman of Jet Support Services Inc. Robert Book and his wife, Amy; Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and his wife, Joelle; GUESS Founders Maurice and Paul Marciano; FIDF National Chairman Rabbi Peter  Weintraub; FIDF National President Robert  Cohen; FIDF National Board Member and Western Region President Tony Rubin and his wife, Linda; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; and FIDF Western Region Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

“We are thrilled that so many members of our community, including major Hollywood figures, are coming together to help us support the brave men and women of the IDF,” said Haim Saban. “Cheryl and I are extremely proud to chair this event for the 12th year, and to be part of this incredible organization that inspires more and more supporters and contributions every year.”

The top donations announced at the event were $10 million from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson and $10 million from Haim and Cheryl Saban.

Rabbi Eckstein, who has contributed more than $45 million to FIDF in the last few years, donated $5 million at the gala. “We are so deeply grateful to FIDF for the commendable support they provide the real heroes of Israel, the men and women on the front lines, and The Fellowship is proud to be their partner in this vital mission.”

Pharrell Williams performing at the FIDF Western Region Gala – Shahar Azran
Pharrell Williams performing at the FIDF Western Region Gala – Shahar Azran

The event featured a special performance by Pharrell Williams. Presiding as the evening’s master of ceremonies was Staff Sgt. (Res.) Izzy Ezagui, an American who moved to Israel, became a decorated squad commander in the IDF, and returned to the battlefield after losing an arm in combat.

The gala presented a moving program, which told the 70-year history of Israel through the eyes of its heroes, including the multigenerational story of the Duvdevani family, whose members are commended for their heroic actions protecting Israel. The experiences of the IDF’s paramedics – the heroes behind the heroes – were shared through the stories of Staff Sgt. Yotam, a paramedic in the Paratroopers’ Brigade, who helped an American soldier in need of critical medical treatment during Operation Swift Response, an international exercise in Poland; Staff Sgt. Erez, who served as a combat medic in the “Egoz” unit of the Golani Brigade during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and supported his unit in the Shuja’iyeh neighborhood of Gaza, arriving at the scene under heavy fire and saving the life of his severely injured commander; and Lt.  Noam, a paramedic in the Armored Corps who attempted to perform resuscitation on a critically wounded soldier during Operation Protective Edge, despite his low chances of survival.

Finally, guests celebrated the triumph of the human spirit as Col. Shai Siman-Tov, who was critically wounded during Operation Protective Edge, shared his story. His injuries left him paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair; however, undeterred by his injury, Shai returned to the IDF and is now a team leader at the Tactical Command College. In 2017, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel.

Funds raised at the gala will provide much-needed and well-deserved services such as academic scholarships to combat veterans, financial assistance for soldiers in-need, support for Lone Soldiers throughout their service and upon release, crucial aid for wounded veterans and the families of fallen soldiers, weeks of rest and recuperation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities. The evening presented a rare and exclusive opportunity to pay tribute to the state of Israel and its brave men and women in uniform.