A record $53.8 million was raised at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala on Nov. 2 at The Beverly Hilton hotel. FIDF national board member and major supporter Haim Sabanconducted the fundraiser during the sold-out event that drew 1,200 guests. It didn’t take Saban long to raise the record amount of donations, thanks in large part to Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison, who didn’t attend but donated $16.6 million.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, donated more than $5.5 million. Over the years, Eckstein has donated a total of $40 million to FIDF. Among the gala attendees were Guess founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, who also donated millions to the FIDF.
Among the celebrities attending the event were Gerard Butler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joanna Krupa, Katharine McPhee and Gene Simmons. Simmons, a member of the rock group Kiss and a regular guest at the FIDF gala, performed Kiss’ signature song “Rock and Roll All Nite.”
“Year after year, the support from the Los Angeles community for this remarkable event continues to amaze me, and this year’s gala is no exception” Saban said. “[My wife] Cheryl and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for these great causes and deeply honored by this year’s record-breaking donations.”
The gala featured the screening of a video called “Heroes of the IDF,” which told the stories of women combat soldiers. Today, 95 percent of IDF jobs are open to women, who serve as pilots, infantry soldiers, artillery combat soldiers, electronic warfare specialists, and anti-aircraft and naval officers. About 11 percent of combat soldiers drafted into the IDF each year are women.
Among the 17 active-duty soldiers attending the gala was border policewoman Cpl. Ravit Mor, whose life was saved by the late border policewoman Hadar Cohen, 19, after she was attacked by a male terrorist in February 2016. After being stabbed several times, Cohen shot the perpetrator but she was then attacked from behind by another terrorist and died. Mor later told the Jewish Journal about the close relationship she formed with Cohen’s parents: “It’s amazing how they supported and embraced me during that time, even though they were in pain for losing their daughter. This experience had made me stronger and taught me how to appreciate every moment in life.”
Also in attendance was Noam Gershony, the former IDF pilot whose helicopter crashed as he was heading to rescue troops during the 2006 Lebanon War. Gershony broke nearly every bone in his body, and was paralyzed from the waist down. He emerged from a deep depression not only to be rehabilitated, but to win a gold medal and share a bronze medal in wheelchair tennis at the 2012 Paralympic Games. When Gershony came on stage walking with the assistance of crutches, he was received with a standing ovation. Addressing the audience, Gershony jokingly said: “Now I can finally go out with a beautiful girl in Tel Aviv — or even a few.”
Presiding as the evening’s master of ceremonies was Israeli actress Moran Atias. The event featured special performances by singer Seal, The Tenors and David Foster & Friends.