Reporting by Leah
The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) held an extraordinary FIDF National New York Gala Dinner on March 9, 2010. The FIDF Gala Dinner is one of the most anticipated events of the year and brought together 1,400 notable business, philanthropic and community leaders from across the country to salute and show their support for the Soldiers of Israel. The black tie event was held at New York’s famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and started with a cocktail reception from 5:30pm to 7:00pm followed by a Gala Dinner where 20 million dollars was raised.
Notable attendees included Chief of the IDF General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Professor Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s Consul General in New York Assaf Shariv, and Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attache to the U.S.A. and Canada Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni.
During the formal dinner program there was a designated portion where people announced their donations, many heartfelt and moving, describing who their donations were in honor of or in whose memory. One such donation was for $360, in honor of an Israeli Soldier, killed by a drunk driver who otherwise would have been at the dinner. Among the many contributions was a 4 million dollar donation announced by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. Luxury fashion designer Elie Tahari pledged 100,000 dollars and an additional 500,000 dollars was pledged by the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York (IAJF.) Contributing to the evening’s success was a donation of 750,000 dollars by The Genesis Philanthropy Group designated for the wellbeing of Israel’s soldiers.
Mr. Benny Shabtai chaired the dinner for the 12th year and author and nationally syndicated radio host Dr. Monica Crowley once again served as the evening’s Master of Ceremony. Chief of the IDF General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the evening’s keynote speaker, briefed the audience about Israel’s current affairs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the audience with opening remarks from Jerusalem and expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the great work of both Israel’s soldiers and their supporters in the U.S. In addition, three IDF officers also greeted the guests via live satellite from the IDF Navy Ship that participated in the seize of the freighter Francorp this past November, which was carrying a large shipment of concealed Iranian weapons destined for the Hezbollah terrorist organization.
One of the most heartfelt speeches was given by bereaved father Guy Banai, who tragically lost his son, Staff Sergeant Liran Banai, when Palestinian terrorists attacked his IDF jeep on the Gaza Strip border. Liran decided to serve in the Givati Brigade combat unit even though, as the son of deaf parents, he was exempt from doing so. Liran was the pillar of his family as he not only helped them communicate, but was also their sole source of income. Liran was survived by his parents, Guy and Gila, his sister Yamit, who is currently serving in the IDF, and his younger brother Tomer.
Among the representatives of the US military present at the event was a Marine who recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. He was so deeply moved by the evening that he decided to donate 1,000 dollars of his own savings in memory of Staff Sergeant Liran Banai
Unique to this year, the Gala was themed around the concept of Education. The FIDF sponsors a wide range of educational programs that benefit soldiers and emphasizes the importance of personal growth, responsibility, and social duty. Honoring guests with their presence this year were 30 active combat soldiers, representing all of the IDF branches and corps, each soldier an exemplary model of the IDF.
Funds raised at this dinner will provide much needed and well-deserved services such as financial support to soldiers in-need and lone soldiers, academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as cultural, educational and sports facilities. The evening was a rare opportunity to pay tribute to the State of Israel and send a message of support to the brave men and women in uniform.
For more information on and to support the Friends of the IDF please visitwww.fidf.org