It’s very rare when Jews from around the world and from all different religious affiliations can agree on something. Even more rare when Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews rejoice in pride. The Israeli Defense Forces link Jews with pride like nothing else. It’s one of the few, if not the only bond that unifies Jews and Zionists internationally. We all rejoice as friends in victory, and mourn as family when we lose a soldier as if it was our closest relative. We treat lone soldiers as relatives, some of us even admire them so that we dress as one during Purim and other festivities. I was lucky enough to attend a Givati brigade graduation ceremony this year and witnessed this bond firsthand.
More than 1,200 leading business people and philanthropists from across the country saluted Israel’s brave soldiers and veterans at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National N.Y. Gala Dinner on October 17th at the New York Hilton Midtown, which raised more than $32 million to support well-being and educational programs for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
Distinguished guests included Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Amb. Danny Danon; Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attache to the United States Maj. Gen. Michael Edelstein; FIDF Acting Chairman Peter Weintraub; FIDF Chairman Emeritus Arthur Stark; FIDF Acting President Robert Cohen; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir and his wife, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Gila Klifi-Amir; radio personality and voice over artist Valerie Smaldone, who presided as master of ceremonies; and FIDF Tri-State Executive Director Galit Brichta.
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was expected in attendance as well, but due to an early-morning rocket attack on Beer Sheva on Wednesday, he immediately returned to Israel.
Renowned Israeli singer and former “X Factor Israel” television personality Shiri Maimon, who recently starred as Roxie in “Chicago” on Broadway, performed together with soldiers of the IDF Musical Ensemble, as well as with two of her own songs.
Highlighting the unique cooperation between the United States and Israel, Brig. Gen. Tal Kelman, Head of the Strategic Division of the IDF Planning Directorate and former Chief of Staff in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), discussed working together with U.S. Air Force soldiers during the Juniper Cobra joint military exercise earlier this year. He was joined on stage by Cpt. Or, the first female soldier to command a Patriot Battery, who recently employed an advanced air defense system to shoot down the Syrian airplane and drone that invaded Israeli airspace this past July.
Honored guests also included 30 IDF soldiers and officers from several military units, including Staff Sgt. Bar, a paramedic who treats wounded Syrian civilians along the border with Israel as part of the IDF’s “Operation Good Neighbor”; and Maj. Or Ben-Yehuda, who served in the Caracal Battalion, one of the only co-ed military units in the world, and her mother, Prof. Dina Ben-Yehuda, who shared their story of heroism passing on from generation to generation. Dina served in the IDF during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and Or in 2014 single-handedly fought off a group of terrorists and was awarded for her courageous actions. IDF combat veterans who are now FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship recipients were also in attendance.
“Since its birth 70 years ago, Israel has continuously fought for its right to live as a free country in the Middle East. A true ‘Start-up Nation,’ Israel not only survives but thrives, with accomplishments and innovations that greatly contribute not only to her own citizens, but also to the rest of the world,” said Klifi-Amir. “The success of the state of Israel is rooted in many factors, most importantly resting on two pillars; a strong IDF – one of the best militaries in the world, with the highest moral and ethics, and the strong bond between Israel and the great United States of America. Standing together is the most powerful way to continue to thrive, flourish, and face the challenges yet to come. We were honored to have so many highly distinguished guests join us at this momentous annual gala, as we celebrated 70 years of Israel and saluted the heroes of the IDF.”
For the fourth year, FIDF’s flagship national event was chaired by Weintraub. A Reform rabbi and businessman from Westchester, Weintraub has been an avid FIDF supporter for over 17 years and has sponsored academic scholarships for more than 85 IDF combat veterans through FIDF’s IMPACT! Scholarship Program.
“The miracle called Israel has continued to exist as a strong and thriving country over the past 70 years, and it will continue to exist thanks to the heroic soldiers of the IDF, who put their lives on the line every day to defend the home of the Jewish nation. I am proud to chair this extraordinary event and salute Israel’s soldiers for their countless sacrifices, historic victories, and commitment to our people,” said Weintraub.