FIDF Western Gala in Beverly Hills Raises Record $60 Million

It came as no surprise at the end of the evening $60 million had been pledged – the largest amount ever for the charitable organization at a single event.

November 3, 2018 00:04
4 minute read.
(From left to right) Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Dr. Miriam Adelson, Gerard Butler, Sheldon G. Adels

(From left to right) Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Dr. Miriam Adelson, Gerard Butler, Sheldon G. Adelson, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Katharine McPhee, David Foster with IDF Soldiers at the FIDF Western Region Gala. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

BEVERLEY HILLS – There was a last minute addition to the Friends of Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala at the Beverly Hilton on November 1.

The theme of this year’s event, hosted by Haim and Cheryl Saban was “Making a Difference: 70 Years of Heroes and Hope,” designed around front line heroes and the “heroes behind the heroes” – paramedics in the IDF.

Shortly before the official ceremonies commenced, a voiceover announced: “We have gathered tonight to honor those who give everything to defend the Jewish people and the Jewish State. Before we begin our program we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that today our Jewish family is in mourning. Please join us in a moment of silence as we honor the 11 congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh who were senselessly murdered this past Shabbat.”

There wasn’t a sound as 1,200 people, heads bowed, stood in silence in the packed ballroom. And while everyone who came was there to support FIDF and Israel’s soldiers – as well as to see Pharrell Williams perform – it came as no surprise at the end of the evening as $60 million had been pledged – the largest amount ever for the charitable organization at a single event.

The largest donations came from the Sabans and Sheldon and Miri Adelson, who pledged $10 million each. Cheryl Saban said, “I wasn’t born into a Jewish family, I was absorbed and loved into a Jewish family.” Another voiceover announced that this year is Israel’s “70th anniversary of hope, heroism, democracy and freedom.”

Among those embodying these traits was Israeli-American Emcee Izzy Ezagui, a decorated squad commander in the IDF. He lost an arm in a mortar attack on the border of the Gaza Strip, but fought to return and reenlist in the IDF. He continues to serve as a reservist and has a wry sense of humor.

“The only thing I’m left wondering,” he quipped to Haim Saban, “is I gave five fingers to the IDF, so does my five finger contribution qualify as a tax write off this evening?”

Jokes aside, the evening paid tribute to several heroes who were flown out for the evening’s gala. In a video entitled “For the Love of Country,” we “met” with five members of the Duvdevani family: Moshe, Yehuda, Chico, Aviv and Michal.

Captain Moshe Duvdevani fought in the War of Independence in 1948, and refused to leave the battlefield until all of his soldiers were able to retreat. He told his second in command, “I’m staying with my soldiers, no one gets left behind.” Moshe was killed on the battlefield and his body wasn’t recovered.

Fast forward to the Yom Kippur war, Moshe’s son, Major Yehuda Duvdevani parachuted into the Sinai. Despite the fierce fighting and witnessing his soldiers being wounded or killed, Yehuda recalled his father’s words and said, “The commander never leaves anyone behind.”

Moshe’s grandson, Brigadier Moshe “Chico” Tamir fought in the Second Lebanon War and made sure to bring home the bodies of his fallen comrades. He also ordered his soldiers to take Hezbollah bodies, including the body of the son of the Hezbollah leader, that ultimately led to an exchange of bodies for a fallen Israeli soldier.

Moshe’s great-grandson Aviv, works in a border patrol unit today and his granddaughter Michal works in Washington as an IDF major in the joint Israel-US counterterrorism force. “I can tell you what we do, but of course I’d have to shoot you,” she says in the video.
The story came full circle, when 50 years after he disappeared in battle, Moshe Duvdevani’s remains were discovered and he was buried at Mount Herzl, with other fallen soldiers.

Onstage at the gala, Michal said, “Every time I put on my IDF uniform in Washington, I remember my grandfather’s spirit and legacy.”

Also honored were three IDF paramedics, Staff Sgt. Yotam, who saved a wounded American soldier in 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 saved the life of his commander by keeping his hands inside his chest cavity to stop him from bleeding to death; and Lt. Noam Dan, a 21-year-old paramedic in the Armored Corps who tried to save the life of 22-year-old Oded ben Sira, a soldier during Operation Protective Edge.

“It was 25 minutes of CPR,” she said in the video. “I couldn’t feel his pulse. I knew there was nothing I could do so I hoped for him and his mama. I held him like he was my son.” She told him she loved him and was sorry. “The soldier died in my arms.” Onstage, Lt. Noam cried as she said, “While we must mourn [Oded’s] loss, we must remember and honor his life and the sacrifice he made for me, my family for us all.” She then invited Oded’s mother, Miriam, onstage. Hugging Lt. Noam, Miriam said, “At the age of 21, you showed [Oded] love and compassion as a mother would do. May we know no more war.”

The final honoree of the evening was Col. Shai Siman-Tov, who was paralyzed during Operation Protective Edge. Although still in a wheelchair, he returned to the IDF and is now a team leader at the Tactical Command College in Israel.

Siman-Tov rose out of his wheelchair and said: “It is my great honor to stand in front of you tonight. Thank you for all you’re doing to support soldiers like me. Each of us is just doing our part to keep Israel safe – we will never rest until we achieve our ultimate goal, which is, and will always be, peace with our neighbors.”

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