With a most impressive and touching array of presentations, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, “FIDF,” hosted its annual Gala Dinner at the New York Hilton Hotel on Monday night, October 23, with over 1200 guests. The evening, titled “A Night of Heroes,” resulted in an unprecedented group of pledges in support of crucial FIDF activities, totaling more that $35 million dollars, donated by leading Jewish leaders, business people and philanthropists from across the country.
The work of the FIDF in Israel is a most critical adjunct to the heroic activities of the Israel Defense Forces. Established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors, it has blossomed into the most vibrant soldier-support organization in Israel, whose mission is to provide cultural, educational, recreational, social and financial support to the members of the IDF and their families.
A vast number of projects are included in the work of the FIDF. The organization provides for the needs of lone soldiers, who have no family in Israel; for families of soldiers whose because of their IDF service do not have the financial means to support their food and housing needs; for families of wounded soldiers; and for widows or widowers and orphans of families who have lost a spouse and/or parent due to their service in the IDF.
The FIDF Gala was chaired by FIDF National President Rabbi Peter Weintraub, a 16-year veteran supporter of the work of FIDF and a sponsor of over 85 Combat Veterans Scholarships through its IMPACT Educational Scholarship program. It included words of greeting by FIDF National Chairman Arthur Stark and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. General (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir. The master of ceremonies was Fox Business Network Anchor Liz Claman, who also interviewed various special guests.
The “Night of Heroes” saluted the brave IDF soldiers and veterans from all over Israel and from various services in the IDF. Included was a special commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Six-Day war, led by 92-year-old IAF fighter pilot Danny Shapira. Mr. Shapira, interviewed by Liz Claman, told of the very beginnings of his service in a fledgling Israeli Air Force at the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and how he had continued his illustrious career in the IAF as a pilot, commander and test pilot. The tradition continued with his children who also served in the IAF.
Major General Amir Eshel, Israel’s outgoing IAF Air Force commander, spoke about the new and recently acquired F-35 Adir fighter jets and how they are a game changer in the region. The F-35 is produced in the United States but sports additional Israeli innovation including an advanced high-tech Helmet Mounted Display system that is manufactured in Israel and utilized by all F-35 pilots worldwide.
In addition to Maj. Gen. Eshel, the Israeli Air Force was represented by Major “G,” who pilots a new F-35; Capt “N,” one of the IAF’s few women combat flight navigators; Shira, an IDF paramedic who has treated wounded Syrian refugees; and Israeli Navy Sgt. Matan, a lone soldier from Westchester. An additional 21 soldiers were in attendance including the IDF Singers. The Israeli group also included Amir Ofer, a hero of the famed 1976 Entebee Airport rescue who related little-known details of the operation.
Teaneck resident Cantor Netanel Hershtik, cantor of the Hampton Synagogue, sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and the IDF Singers rendered Hatikva. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews, offered the Hamotzi benediction.
New Jersey FIDF activists at the Gala Dinner included Shelly and Josef “Chick” Paradis, a past national board member and IDF soldier who served in the Yom Kippur War; Sammy Bar-Or, a co-founder of the NJ Chapter of FIDF and former lone soldier; Harry Gross, National IMPACT Scholarship Program chairman; Moshe, Naomi and Rami Evar; and Annette Tauber Stern, longtime member of the NJ Dinner planning committee and this year’s co-chair of the NJ Dinner along with Ellen Sokoloff and her husband, Lloyd. Mr. Howard Gases serves as director of the New Jersey region of FIDF.
The contributions toward the record $35 million included a generous pledge of $7 million from Las Vegas philanthropists Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson; a $2 million pledge from Or Lachayal; a $1.5 million pledge from FIDF Young Leadership; a $1 million pledge each from Genesis Philanthropy Group, Masa Yisraeli, Nefesh B’Nefesh and FIDF National Vice-President Marc Perlman; and a $600,000 pledge from the Iranian Jewish Federation.
Israel UN Ambassador Danny Danon and Consul General of Israel to New York Dani Dayan as well as numerous diplomats were included in the roster of the FIDF Gala Dinner participants.
By Tzvi Allen Fishman and Nancy Miller