FIDF Gala in Memory of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Z”L, Raises $29 Million
The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region Gala held November 7th at the Beverly Hilton raised $29 million, including a $15 million donation announced at the Gala by Haim and Cheryl Saban. The Sabans previously served as chairmen of the FIDF for 13 years.
Actress and model, Moran Atias, reprised her role as emcee at this year’s event, which drew over 1000 supporters. She introduced representatives from all branches of the U.S. military. They then joined IDF soldiers on the stage to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “HaTikva.”
Among the representatives of the U.S. armed forces was David McCarthy, a retired lieutenant colonel in the American Marine Corps. McCarthy said he was incredibly proud of all the soldiers, especially his oldest son, who was a sergeant in the IDF. His son, after completing his army service, stayed four additional years in Israel to study at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem; he is currently a law student in Brooklyn. McCarthy said he was bursting with pride when his son joined the IDF, and he wished he could’ve joined with him.
IDF soldiers present (some identified only with an initial for security reasons) included Sgt. (Res.) Izzy Ezagui, who returned to army service after losing an arm in battle; 1st Lt. Jerusalem, an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier who refused to allow her visual disability to interfere with her being able to serve and who became an IDF officer in the IDF Northern Command; Cpl. Eden, an IDF Musical Ensemble singer and winner of X Factor Israel; 1st Lt. N, raised in a Druze family and serving in a special unit of paratroopers; and Sgt. Y, who spent time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is now serving in an elite IDF unit.
Earlier, in an interview, Sgt. Y said if there was anything he could recommend to IDF supporters, it would be to help his fellow lone soldiers who were suffering with mental stress and suicide. He cited two reasons for this particular struggle: One was that these young people keep their feelings inside because of the very macho culture, and the second was that some young people already are dealing with problems when they join. He suggested that individuals working though mental health or familial issues not sign up to be soldiers until they receive professional help. There are not enough mental health programs in place for the soldiers. Hopefully this will change in the future.
VP Tony Rubin thanked Haim and Cheryl Saban for their 13 years of dedication and the astounding $55 million in personal donations to date. In addition, Rubin said Haim Saban also helped raise funds from people attending the Gala totaling a quarter of a billion dollars.
Rubin told the crowd that he personally was donating $1 million. He told the story of how eight or nine years ago, he and his wife were talking to their daughters—high school seniors at the time—about which colleges they wanted to attend. They agreed to help their daughters with pursuing recommendations and whatever else they could do in order for them to be accepted to their preferred schools. Rubin said that he imagined that the conversation among Israelis with their high school seniors would be very different, with parents agreeing for their children to enter the army, where they’d be put in harm’s way. Rubin said he couldn’t do that, but he could make a huge donation.
Several attendees were wearing red kippot that said Trump. One of them donated $5000 (his total for the year $40,000 in honor of President Trump). The mention of Trump elicited applause and cheers by many attendees.
Yael Eckstein, who is an Orthodox Jew, said there was nothing traditional about her leading attendees in the blessing HaMotzi or taking over the reins from her father’s organization, IFCA (the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, also known as “The Fellowship”). IFCA has raised over a billion dollars for Israeli causes (including $55 million to FIDF), mostly from evangelical Christians. Eckstein announced a $3 million contribution this year.
One of the most touching moments of the evening was heroic soldier Amit Kadosh asking his girlfriend Talya to marry him. He kneeled down on stage to ask her and then put a ring on her finger. Amit is currently a reserve staff Sgt. A video showed how he heroically neutralized a terrorist during an army operation. Following his service, thanks to the IMPACT scholarship program (one of the many beneficial programs funded by the FIDF), he was able to complete a college education at Tel Aviv University in computer science. He also wanted to contribute more to Israel, so he volunteered in his community and met his wonderful girlfriend (soon to be his wife).
In addition to the IMPACT college scholarships (4580 were provided in 2018), the FIDF has provided education programs, tuition assistance to veterans (the Horizon program), Judaica through the Spiritual Needs Program, flights home for both soldiers (through the Lone Soldier Program) as well as for bereaved families, construction projects, and more.
Following the program, 16-time Grammy Award winner (nominated 47 times) David Foster entertained the crowd with some of his Grammy-winning hits. He then asked if anyone in the audience would like to sing. Two people came up, both with incredible voices. Foster was joined onstage by singing sensation Shelea.
“It was an exciting and meaningful evening,” said Julie Iskowitz, who attended the gala with her son. “FIDF is a critical organization that I’m proud to support.”