More than 1,200 leading business people and philanthropists from across the country gathered tonight at the New York Hilton Midtown for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National N.Y. Gala Dinner, which raised a record of more than $35 million to support well-being and educational programs for Israeli soldiers.
The “Night of Heroes” saluted the brave soldiers and veterans from all of Israel’s military operations and historic wars.
Speaking at the gala was outgoing Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, who commanded the forces protecting Israel’s skies for five years and oversaw the recent acquisition of the new F-35 fighter jets – the most advanced warplane in the region – from the United States.
“I’ve flown 10 sorties in the F-35, and it is a game changer for the Israeli Air Force – not just because of its capabilities, but because it will elevate and strengthen the entire IDF,” said Eshel at the gala.
Among the honored guests were Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Amb. Danny Danon; Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan; and business magnates, philanthropists and steadfast supporters of Israel, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
Distinguished guests included Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman, who presided as master of ceremonies; FIDF National Chairman Arthur Stark; FIDF National President Rabbi Peter Weintraub; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; and FIDF Tri-State Executive Director Galit Brichta.
The evening held a special commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War led by legendary IAF test pilot Danny Shapira, who was one of the very first to fly over Israel and served in most of its wars.
Also speaking was Amir Ofer, a hero of Operation Entebbe, the famous Israeli rescue mission at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport in 1976 that saved 102 hijacked Air France passengers who were held hostage by terrorists. Ofer, who was then a soldier in the IDF’s most elite special operations unit, was the first Israeli commando to enter the Entebbe Airport terminal, where he used a megaphone to tell the hostages, “Stay down! Stay down! We are Israeli soldiers!”
Special guests included 25 IDF soldiers and officers from several military units and the IDF Orchestra, including one of the IAF’s few women combat flight navigators, Capt. “N.”; Maj. “G.,” who pilots one of the IAF’s new F-35 fighter jets; Sgt. Shira, a paramedic who has been treating wounded Syrian refugees; and Israeli Navy Sgt. Matan, a “Lone Soldier” – or one who immigrates to Israel with no immediate family in order to enlist in the IDF – originally from Westchester, N.Y.
“Since its founding, Israel has fought for its right to exist as a free nation and guarantee the security and prosperity of its people. This freedom and safety relies first and foremost on the existence of a strong and moral army,” said Maj. Gen. (Res.) Klifi-Amir. “At this ‘Night of Heroes,’ we salute the men and women soldiers who have taken part in the ongoing struggle of the State of Israel. Each and every one of them is another link in the chain of the IDF heroism and the Jewish State, as they continue to serve today – ‘L’dor Va’dor’ (from generation to generation) – and we all owe them our deepest gratitude. While their job is to look after Israel, our job is to look after them.”
FIDF’s flagship national event was chaired by FIDF National President Rabbi Peter Weintraub. A Reform rabbi and businessman, Weintraub has been an avid FIDF supporter for over 16 years and has sponsored academic scholarships for more than 85 IDF combat veterans through FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program.
“The heroic men and women of the IDF put their lives on the line every day to defend the Jewish state and protect Jews everywhere,” said Weintraub. “Tonight’s gala honors their sacrifices, celebrates their victories, and affords us the opportunity to personally thank them for all that they do in service to Israel and the Jewish people.”
Notable among the donations was a $7 million gift pledged by Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson, who continued their generous support for FIDF. Or Lachayal pledged $2 million and FIDF Young Leadership New York pledged $1.5 million. A number of anonymous donors pledged more than $1 million each. Genesis Philanthropy Group, MASA Israel Journey, Nefesh B’Nefesh, and FIDF National Vice President Marc Perlman each pledged $1 million, and the Iranian American Jewish Federation pledged $600,000.
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.