A record number of 600 community leaders gathered this past Sunday for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Ohio Chapter Annual Dinner, “A Night of Heroes,” at Landerhaven to honor the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The evening, which has become one of the Ohio Jewish community’s largest events, featured Rabbi Doron Perez, CEO of the Mizrachi World Movement, the global religious Zionist organization. Perez has led the organization since 2014, after serving as an Israeli emissary in South Africa, where he was born and raised.
Perez moved to Israel at age 18, studied for a decade in some of the country’s leading yeshivas, or Jewish seminaries, before serving in the IDF’s Hesder program for observant soldiers and completing his rabbinic ordination while earning a BA in Jewish philosophy. Perez is currently studying for a master’s in Jewish history. He is the author of “Leading the Way,” and a popular speaker and scholar-in-residence.
A delegation of IDF soldiers and officers travelled from Israel to attend the gala, including soldiers who are among those who volunteer to enlist and serve Israel proudly, despite not being mandated to do so due to their backgrounds and special circumstances.
Among those recognized was Cpl. Sofie, a Danish Lone Soldier -- one who enlists in the IDF without having immediate family in Israel -- who was raised as a Christian, though her Jewish father served in the IDF. She is among the few women to serve as an F-35 jet mechanic in the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
Also honored was Lt. A., a Lone Soldier from East Jerusalem whose decision to join the IDF, which he viewed as his patriotic duty, cost him his friends, family, and home. After years of homelessness, he is living his childhood dream of being an IDF officer and is excited about his future.
During a special moment on stage, IDF Sgt. Maj. (Res.) Tom Pesach, a combat veteran who received an FIDF IMPACT! scholarship thanks to FIDF supporter Barry Feldman, surprised Feldman and presented him with his IDF unit beret.
Co-chairing the dinner were FIDF supporters Kathy and Jeff Cohen; Barry Feldman; Ida and FIDF Ohio Immediate Past Chairman and National Board Member Irwin Haber; Becky and David Heller; Juli and Chuck Herman; Stephanie and Jared Miller; Nancy and Allan Pearl; Ileen and Irving Rosner; Beverley and FIDF Ohio Chairman Richard Uria; Sara Hurand and Elie Weiss, and Elissa Wuliger.
Other distinguished guests included The Honorable Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French; Judge Anthony Calabrese of the Ohio State Court; Mayor of Lyndhurst Patrick Ward; President of Cleveland State University Harlan Sands; President of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland Erika Rudin-Luria; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; FIDF Midwest Executive Director Tamir Oppenheim; and FIDF Ohio Director Lane Schlessel.
“Our annual dinner is a wonderful opportunity to meet active-duty soldiers of different backgrounds, all united by the shared goal of protecting Israel,” said FIDF Ohio Chapter chairman, Richard Uria. “The FIDF dinner gave our community a special behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the brave IDF soldiers defending the Jewish homeland who directly benefit from FIDF’s important well-being and educational programs. The heartfelt connection between soldiers and supporters made this event the most inspirational night of the year.”
Internationally acclaimed TV journalist, news anchor, reporter, and producer Michelle Makori emceed the event. In partnership with Christians United for Israel (CUFI), noted singer-songwriter Melissa Stamper sang the National Anthems.