As I entered the glamorous Beverly Hilton Hotel last Thursday, November 5, for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces Gala, I felt a strong sense of community. Surrounding me were philanthropists, professionals, actors, and of course, American and Israeli soldiers who were devoted to a cause that supports Israel and the Jewish people.
Hosted by celebrated media proprietor and philanthropist Haim Saban and his wife Cheryl, the FIDF Western Region Gala aspired to inform guests of the tremendous help FIDF provides for lone soldiers, wounded soldiers and the bereaved families of the IDF. FIDF’s assistance to lone soldiers varies from plane tickets for soldiers to visit their families around the world, to providing homes and recreational services that assist soldiers in adjusting to their new lives in Israel.
FIDF also seeks to expose both lone soldiers and soldiers native to Israel to opportunities that can help them continue their education after their service in the IDF. Guests were shown short films that shared personal stories of soldiers and families who were impacted by FIDF. One video displayed a soldier who finished his service and dreamed of pursuing a career in engineering. With help from FIDF, he was directed to the proper schools, internships, and jobs that allowed him to fulfill his goals of achieving a productive profession and continuing to serve Israel — this time as an engineer rather than a soldier.
Among the presentations segmented throughout the evening was revolutionary Israeli-developed technology Rewalk. Essentially an exoskeleton customized to fit the body on an individual paralyzed from the chest down, Rewalk gives people the ability to carry their own weight and walk on their own two feet. Soldiers, veterans, and civilians benefit from the opportunity to restart their lives without their handicaps for the first time since their injuries, or in their lives. Rewalk has even changed the life of a fellow Bruin, Derek Herrera, a student at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business and an Iraq War veteran.
Following the presentation, Varda Pomerantz shared her heartbreaking story to illustrate the gravity of military life and what the Friends of the IDF does for the families of fallen soldiers. Pomerantz, a colonel (ret.) in the Golani Special Forces Brigade, lost her son, 20-year-old First Sergeant Daniel Pomerantz, a Golani solider in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in July of 2014. After a brief video showed Pomerantz’s life as a colonel who also comforts bereaved families, and the tragic story of her son’s death, she appeared on stage. A strong woman, Pomerantz explained that while assisting bereaved families, she developed a close relationship with FIDF and when she and her own family were in need of comfort, FIDF was there to help her overcome the loss of her son.
Pomerantz’s story left the entire room in tears. Still, her experience with FIDF gave guests a true understanding of how important FIDF is to Israel and the viability of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Following the presentations, speeches and segments came the fundraising aspect of the evening. The proceeds raised at the gala will go towards programs that address the educational, social, cultural, and economic needs of IDF soldiers, as well as the families of soldiers fallen in defense of the State of Israel.
The gala’s attendees were diverse in that they ranged from businessmen, doctors, and religious leaders to actors and socialites commonly seen in the public eye. Some celebrities who proudly attended the event were actors Antonio Banderas and Liev Schreiber and comedian Jason Segel. Seinfeld’sJason Alexander was also in attendance and even graced guests with a rendition of Barbara Streisand’s famous song “The Way We Were.”
Just when I thought the evening had met its quota of glitz and glamour, legendary music producer David Foster entered the stage to lead the gala’s entertainment. Enchanting the audience with his piano, Foster surprised us all when he welcomed French Pied-noir singer, Enrico Macias, to the stage to sing the ballad “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) in Hebrew. KISS rock star Gene Simmons then captivated guests with an impromptu singing of “Rock and Roll All Night.”
The night’s main attraction, however, was famed 1960s band the Beach Boys. Attendees rose to their feet, clapping and singing along. The classic American icons were a perfect way to seal this year’s FIDF gala, reminding guests of the strong connections the US maintains with Israel.
The Friends of the IDF Western Region Gala showed me the importance of being part of a strong community that supports Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces. Not only does this organization strive to enrich the culture, recreation, and security of Israel’s beloved soldiers and their families, but the FIDF also gives back to a greater community, supporting people, Jewish or not, all over the world, and I am both proud and thankful to be a part of such a family.