Some 1,300 prominent business and philanthropic leaders from across the country came together on Tuesday for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) National New York Gala Dinner at the landmark Waldorf-Astoria New York. The gala raised a record-breaking $33.1 million to support educational and well-being programs for the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), featured a keynote address by Israel’s minister of defense and former vice prime minister, Moshe Yaalon, and honored business magnates, philanthropists, and steadfast supporters of Israel, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson.
A 37-year veteran of the IDF, Yaalon, known as “Bogie,” began his service in the Paratroopers Brigade and became a commander in Israel’s most elite special-operations unit, Sayeret Matkal. Yaalon rose through the ranks, holding high-level command positions including chief of Israel’s military intelligence, head officer in charge of Israel’s Central Command, and chief of the general staff of the IDF.
In the gala’s keynote address, Yaalon said, “Even as Israel has become a global leader in so many fields, we are still embroiled in the battle for our independence. We are surrounded by several nations and entities that have yet to accept the existence of a Jewish homeland. We strive for peace while they strive for war.”
Yaalon also discussed his meeting Monday with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on the U.S. military-aid package to Israel, and said the U.S. remains “our ally and strategic cornerstone.”
“We spoke about just how strong the ties are between our two countries and how much we value this special relationship. This unique bond between FIDF and its American supporters, the Israel Defense Forces, and the people of Israel is exemplified here tonight. Israel has no greater friend than the United States of America,” he said.
Yaalon also thanked the FIDF gala participants: “On behalf of the State of Israel, I want to thank you, our supporters, from the bottom of my heart for your endless commitment to the wellbeing of our soldiers.”
The 2016 FIDF National New York Gala Dinner honored Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson with the inaugural FIDF “Defenders of Israel” award for their lifelong philanthropy and support for a variety of causes in the U.S. and Israel. Israeli-born Dr. Miriam Adelson is an accomplished medical doctor and a former IDF soldier who served with distinction. Mr. Adelson is an entrepreneur and integrated-resorts developer who is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest business leaders of his generation and currently employs more than 50,000 people worldwide. They are partners in varied and global business and philanthropic activities.
“My wife, Miriam, and I are truly honored to accept this award from FIDF,” said Sheldon G. Adelson. “Advocating for Israel and caring for the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are the causes closest to our hearts. Today, more than ever, we must support our family—the people of Israel. That is why we are proud to stand here tonight in solidarity with these courageous defenders of the Jewish homeland.”
The Adelsons have joined a unique pantheon of the foremost names in Jewish philanthropy in modern Jewish history. They are the single largest funders of Birthright and Yad Vashem and have consecrated their success to the noble aim of always fighting for and protecting Israel and the Jewish people.
“This evening paid tribute to the brave men and women in uniform who protect the State of Israel and Jews worldwide. We were honored to have Israel’s minister of defense, Moshe ‘Bogie’ Yaalon, as well as Jewish philanthropic leaders Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, joining our community to welcome these soldiers,” said FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir. “Tonight was about showing them that we are all thankful for their sacrifices and that, while their job is to look after Israel, ours is to look after them.”
FIDF’s flagship national event was chaired by FIDF National President Rabbi Peter Weintraub. A Reform rabbi and businessman, he has been an avid FIDF supporter for 15 years and has sponsored academic scholarships for more than 70 IDF combat veterans through FIDF’s IMPACT! scholarship program.
Special guests included 30 IDF soldiers from various military units, including Sergeants Sydney and Solomon and Staff Sgt. Ariel, who are all originally from New York and enlisted in the IDF as lone soldiers—those who serve without immediate family in Israel; a former commando from Israel’s most elite special-operations unit who received an FIDF IMPACT! scholarship and studies medicine in Israel; Israel Border Police Sgt. A, a lone soldier from France who recently saved fellow soldiers from a stabbing attack at her checkpoint; and Lt. Col. Shai Siman Tov, who was told he would never walk again when a terror tunnel collapsed on him during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
“After I was wounded, I made a promise to myself to leave the hospital on my feet—and I kept that promise,” said Siman Tov. “Thank you all for standing with me—and my fellow soldiers.”
Among the honored guests were Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, and Consul-General of Israel in New York Ido Aharoni.
Distinguished guests included Fox Business Network anchor Liz Claman, who presided as the evening’s master of ceremonies; FIDF National Chairman Arthur Stark; FIDF National President Rabbi Peter Weintraub; FIDF National Chairmen Emeritus Nily Falic, Larry J. Hochberg, and Marvin Josephson; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; and FIDF Tri-State Executive Director Galit Brichta.
Notable among the donations was a $10 million gift pledged by Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson. Or Lachayal pledged $2.8 million, and FIDF Young Leadership New York pledged $1.6 million. MASA Israel Journey, Genesis Philanthropy Group, and Nefesh B’Nefesh each pledged $1 million, as did FIDF National Chairman Emeritus Nily Falic. In addition, the Iranian American Jewish Federation pledged $610,000 and Beit Morasha pledged $500,000.
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.