The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Western Region gala, held Dec. 17, 2009, at the Beverly Hilton, raised more than $5.2 million to benefit IDF soldiers through the various FIDF programs. Paul Guerin, president of the Western Region group, began the evening’s program with the announcement that he and his wife, Vera, would give $1 million, half of which will be dedicated to supporting FIDF’s IMPACT! scholarship program that provides college scholarships to former combat soldiers with limited financial means. At the sold-out gala, event chairs Cheryl and Haim Saban then said they would match the $1.6 million already raised, followed by two additional $500,000 pledges by Victoria and Ron Simms, and Erika Glazer.
The ceremony opened with 29 IDF soldiers who had lost a sibling or parent to Israel’s wars saluting the American and Israeli flags, along with four U.S. Marines who had served in Iraq. Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Congregation Ner Tamid and FIDF Los Angeles Chapter Vice President led the 1,000 audience members in the blessings over the bread and gave an invocation comparing the lights of Chanukah to Israel’s military defenders.
Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame volunteered his time to serve as emcee for a crowd consisting of the “who’s who” of local Israeli American and American Jewish philanthropic society. Gala co-chairs also included: Adele and Beny Alagem; Joyce and Avi Arad; Steve Bing; Joyce and Stanley Black; Ruth and Leo David; Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer and Mel Keefer; Erika Glazer; the Guerins; Sue and Larry J. Hochberg; Israeli Leadership Council; Jena and Michael King; Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort; Nathalie and Maurice Marciano; Katherine Merage; Soraya and Younes Nazarian; Fela and David Shapell; Victoria and Ron Simms; Adi and Philip Werthman; and Lila and David Wiener.
Other dignitaries, city officials and celebrities present included former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky; L.A. Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan; Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca; and Sylvester Stallone. Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi sent his support via telecast.
But those who received the real “star” treatment were Israel’s finest, who addressed the audience. They included Lt. Daniel Sahalo, an Ethiopian immigrant who received an IMPACT! scholarship upon completing his service as a paratrooper; an Israeli Air Force sergeant whose father had been killed in a terrorist attack; and a female Apache combat helicopter pilot who elicited the most cheers for her rare and coveted status.
In his remarks, entertainment and media mogul Saban credited Israel’s economic achievements and technological innovations to the IDF, saying, “Israel’s many successes, including in the world of technology, [have their] roots in the military. These young men and women learn what teamwork, leadership, mission-oriented skills and experience really mean. If you mix these lessons they learn in the military with the abrasive individualism — or in other words, Israeli chutzpah — you would better understand why Israel, a tiny nation of immigrants torn by war, has in fact become the first technology nation in the world.”
He concluded with a message to Israel’s would-be destroyers, saying, “You better find a different dream, because this one isn’t coming true.”
The evening was capped with a performance by 12-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi, a finalist in “Britain’s Got Talent” who had performed at Michael Jackson’s televised public memorial service, and the Four Tops singing classics including “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’.”