Over 1500 people gathered Monday night at the Cipriani Wall Street hotel to honor Israel’s wounded soldiers and veterans and pay tribute to 1,200 Israelis murdered in the October 7 massacre and ensuing battles, among them over 60 IDF soldiers, officers and reservists.
IDF soldiers currently in the U.S. receiving medical and psychological treatment for their injuries told the guests at the annual Belev Echad Gala about their heroic battles to protect Israeli citizens from Hamas terrorists.
Jonathan Pinto, 20, was driving a tank in southern Israel on October 7 when it was struck by an anti-tank missile that left him with shrapnel wounds and serious burns all over his body. “At first everything turned white, then everything turned black. Then my face started to burn from the heat waves,” Pinto told the crowd emotionally. Blinded by the blast, he was evacuated by fellow soldiers from his tank into an APC until the vehicle drove over a mine and stalled. Pinto and the others were then attacked again by armed terrorists on motorcycles who fired seven anti-tank missiles at their vehicle in a murderous attempt to blow them up. The soldiers valiantly eliminated the enemy, and Jonathan ran 3 kilometers without being able to see, grasping onto the shoulder of a colleague until he reached safety.
Pinto has since undergone multiple surgeries to remove shrapnel, in addition to three surgeries on his eyes. The procedures have restored approximately half of the vision to his right eye, and both eyes are still expected to improve, although it’s unclear how much of his sight will return. He is currently in the United States seeking a second opinion.
On the same day, Daniel Zaidman, 22, and his fellow soldiers set out to Netiv Ha’asara on the northern Gaza border to locate terrorists who had murdered dozens of Israeli families and were continuing their rampage to other communities. Zaidman, who had been on leave for the holiday weekend, had reported immediately back to his base, which had been attacked and partially destroyed by Hamas terrorists. With the majority of their weapons looted or destroyed, Zaidman and the other soldiers set out on their mission equipped with outdated, partially defective weaponry.
“The death and destruction that met our eyes is indescribable,” he said of the carnage. “Bodies were strewn everywhere, overturned baby carriages, homes torn apart and burned to their foundations. “Out of nowhere, terrorists began shooting at us. Tomer, who was sitting beside me, was shot in the head and died instantly, while I took a bullet in the arm. Hours passed before our unit was finally rescued.” Zaidman was evacuated to the hospital for emergency surgery in his hand and eyes which were riddled with shrapnel.
Over 1,500 supporters attended Belev Echad’s annual fundraiser in Manhattan’s Financial District Monday night as they honored the organization and the wounded Israeli soldiers and veterans that it supports.
Under the banner “Restoring Our Soldiers to Life,” the evening was dedicated in memory of Raz Mizrachi, an IDF officer who appeared as the keynote speaker in last year’s Belev Echad program. Raz was mortally wounded at the height of the Guardian of the Walls military operation in 2021 when a terrorist ran over her body four times, crushing her; yet, with courage and grit, she returned to life and military service, serving as an inspiration to thousands. Raz was brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7 at the Nova musical festival in Kibbutz Re’im.
The evening of solidarity with Israel and the IDF was sponsored by Belev Echad, an international non-profit organization supporting wounded-in-action soldiers and veterans of the Israel Defense Forces and facilitating their physical and emotional convalescence and return to life. Founded in 2009 by Chabad Rabbi Uriel Vigler and his wife, Shevy, Belev Echad offers a platform for the New York Jewish community to show its solidarity with Israel’s wounded soldiers by bringing them on tours through Manhattan to heal and meet American supporters. Over time, the organization evolved into a full-scale international network that supports and advocates for soldiers to ensure that they receive full medical and rehabilitation benefits, offers scholarships, job placement and career training programs, and guides soldiers back to life.
The organization's activities have grown considerably following the October 7 massacre by Hamas and the ensuing war in Gaza, which has left dozens of soldiers dead and hundreds wounded. The goal of Monday’s event was to raise funds for wounded Israeli soldiers and reservists to sponsor medical treatment, rehabilitation and support their return to life. For some soldiers, the evening’s proceeds mean access to some of the best medical care in the world.
First Sergeant Eden Chamu, 21, an officer in the IDF’s elite Golani Brigade, was on duty at 6:30am on October 7th when he heard the first siren. He and eight other soldiers took cover in an APC when they received word that terrorists had infiltrated a nearby kibbutz. On their way to protect the residents, their APC was attacked by armed terrorists who tossed two grenades directly into their vehicle. One soldier threw himself onto the grenade, saving the lives of the others, while Yarden and the others were all seriously wounded from shrapnel. Over the next few hours, the injured soldiers fought valiantly against ruthless terrorists until they were rescued under heavy fire. Chamu, who is suffering both physical injuries and PTSD, has also come to America to heal physically and emotionally from his ordeal.
The rabbi shares that, unfortunately, there are “so many newly wounded soldiers” whom the organization is helping. “I haven’t seen such wounds on our soldiers in 15 years of doing this, so it’s gotten much harder,” he said. “There are so many prosthetic limbs that we’re going to need, torn hands, torn legs and blind soldiers, but we are here, our community is here, there are 1,500 people here tonight, and we’re just gonna do everything in our power for these soldiers.”
"We've really had to step it up to high gear to save our soldiers' lives," added his wife. The event was attended by VIPs and celebrities from across the U.S., as well as some of Israel’s most popular entertainers and musicians.
Since his injury on October 7, Zaidman, 22, has been receiving assistance from Belev Echad. At Monday night’s event, he said he was moved by the outpouring of love and support from the New York Jewish community. "I can't straighten my fingers, my hand still shakes, and I’m currently in the U.S. receiving medical and psychological treatment for the trauma. But a broken heart is more painful than a bullet in the arm,” he added. “I know this because I lost my best friend.”
But, says his mother, Carmit Pinto, “the very fact that [Jonathan] is alive is a huge miracle.”