LOS ANGELES - The Friends of the IDF (FIDF) broke a new fundraising record on Thursday night, raising $54 million for IDF soldiers.
The annual fundraising gala, which was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, was hosted by Israeli model and actress Moran Atias and featured performances from Seal and David Foster.
Among the 1,200 invitees from Israel and the US were Israel's Consul General in LA Sam Grundwerg, FIDF National Director Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, founder and CEO of Oracle Larry Ellison, president and founder of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, retail fashion mogul Serge Azria, GUESS founders Paul and Marciano Marciano, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, model Joanna Krupa, actor Gerard Butler and actress Melissa Rivers, among others.
The top donation of the night came from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who gave $16.6 million for the construction of well-being facilities for co-ed infantry battalions in the IDF.
“For 2,000 years, we were a stateless people. But now, we have a country we can call our own," Ellison said. "Through all of the perilous times since Israel’s founding, we have called on the brave men and women of the IDF to defend our home. In my mind, there is no greater honor than supporting some of the bravest people in the world.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews also made a generous donation of $5.5 million, bringing his total donations to the FIDF over the years to over $40 million.
FIDF National Board Member and major supporter Haim Saban, who hosted the star-studded event, was surprised when his wife Cheryl announced she was donating $5 million on behalf of their family. "I really didn't know about this donation," he said with a smile.
"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 added. "Cheryl and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for this great cause and are deeply honored by this year's record-breaking donations. Chairing this event for the past 11 years has been a great privilege, and we look forward to furthering FIDF’s noble mission of providing well-being and educational programs for the IDF’s brave heroes—and seeing our community welcome Israel's men and women in uniform with open arms."
Businessman Robert Book donated $3 million, while another anonymous donation was made for $9 million.
Seventeen soldiers from different IDF units also took part in the event, including lone soldiers who decided to make aliyah to Israel and join the IDF.
One of the more touching moments of the gala was when Paralympics champion Noam Gershony, who was injured in a helicopter accident during the Second Lebanon War, told his story and was rewarded by thunderous applause.
Another part of the evening highlighted the contribution made by female soldiers, featuring Cpl. Ravit, whose life was saved by the late Border Policewoman Hadar Cohen, and Sgt. Leah, a former L'Oréal model from Austria who is a lone soldier serving in a special combat unit in the Artillery Corps.