LA FIDF fundraising event achieves record-high donation sum .
(photo credit: ALEXI ROSENFELD)
LOS ANGELES – Amid the glitz and glamour of a hotel ballroom in Los Angeles filled with 1,200 supporters of the Friends of Israel Defense Force (FIDF), was a small, laminated card that perhaps packed the biggest emotional punch of the evening.
The card had the simple tefillat haderech – traveler’s prayer – printed on it, along with the name of 19-year-old Hadar Cohen and the insignia of the unit named in her honor.
Hadar, a border policewoman, was killed by a Palestinian terrorist at the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City in February 2016. She was just one of the IDF members – past and present – honored at the FIDF annual Western Region Gala at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday. .
In what has become an annual tradition, the IDF members at Thursday night’s event – which was hosted by chairman Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl – were flown to Los Angeles. Hadar’s colleague, Cpl. Ravit, received a standing ovation as she recounted how Hadar saved her life by shooting one of the three terrorists at the scene of the attack. “I am [alive today] because of my friend Hadar. I think about her courage and sacrifice every day. She gave her life to save mine.”
Ravit also acknowledged Hadar’s parents – Sigal and Ofer – who were in the audience.
Another female honoree this year was Lt. Maya, a commander with the IDF’s officers’ training school. Maya shot and killed a terrorist who drove his truck into a group of soldiers, in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem in January. Four soldiers died in that attack. Lt. Maya told attendees, “As an IDF officer, you learn that a split-second is the difference between life and death. When I saw the truck, I did what I was trained to do: I shot the terrorist. I only wish I could have saved all my soldiers that day.”
St.-Sgt. (Res.) Sharon, who served as a sharpshooter in one of the world’s only coed combat infantry units, was also honored. Sharon killed three terrorists on the southern border, saving the lives of her colleagues. Actress and emcee Moran Attias corrected herself when she started saying, “the men and women of the IDF,” quickly changing it to, “the women and the men of the IDF.” Raucous applause followed ahead of a video montage that stated women now make up 33% of the IDF, with 11% of them serving in combat units.
Also honored were former IDF pilot Noam Gershony – who survived a devastating helicopter crash in 2006 and went on to win the Gold medal in wheelchair tennis for Israel at the 2012 Paralympics in London – and Col. (Res.) Dr. Salman Zarka, director general of the Ziv Medical Center in Israel, who has saved hundreds of Syrian refugees’ lives as part of “Operation Good Neighbor.”
The non-profit FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide educational, cultural, recreation, and social programs for IDF soldiers. With more than 150,000 supporters and 20 chapters in the Unit- ed States and Panama, the Western region gala broke all previous records by raising an unprecedented $53.8 million.
The largest single donation of $16.6 million came from Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. His donation will support the construction of well-being facilities on a new training campus for the IDF’s coed infantry units.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the Inter - national Fellowship of Christians and Jews, made a $5.5 million donation. Over the years he has donated more than $40 million to the FIDF and had the honor of making hamotzi – the blessing over bread – at the gala. The fundraising part of the festivities was followed by entertainment provided by David Foster, Gene Simmons, The Tenors and Seal. But the real celebrities of the evening were the soldiers. As emcee Attias noted, “The IDF protects not only Israel, but Jews all over the world. From the earthquake in Haiti to the devastating earthquake in Mexico – the IDF is a living example of our most sacred duty – Tikkun Olam – helping others around the world.