When Adina Karpuj Bortz made aliyah from Atlanta and joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2015, her mother, Congregation Or Hadash Rabbi Analia Bortz, learned the value of Friends of the IDF.

“I was happy to see her go, as that was the goal as proud Zionist parents, yet it then dawned on me: Who will hug her and console her tears? Who would welcome her home after a long day and prepare Shabbat dinner? Yet little did I know that FIDF would be her mom away from home,” the rabbi said Monday night, May 8, during the annual FIDF Atlanta gala at the InterContinental Buckhead.

More than 500 people, including a veteran of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, gathered for a dinner that raised more than $500,000 and heard keynote speaker Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home party and Israel’s minister of education and Diaspora affairs.

“Beyond the minister of education, I am the minister of Diaspora, which means I’m your minister,” Bennett told the Atlanta crowd.

He spoke about Israel’s accomplishments the past decade.

In 2016, Israel raised more than $6 billion in investments into startup businesses, but strictly because of Israeli entrepreneurship, not because of advanced degrees or technology, Bennett said. “The IDF is more than a defense force; it is an Israeli ethos. We have various Jews, Haredim, Moroccans, and the key to success is to just get in and create new bonds.”

All are united in the sacrifices involved in launching and sustaining the Jewish state, he said, noting that the nation’s founders scheduled Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) right before Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) “to remember the price individuals paid to obtain Israel” and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) a week earlier as a reminder of what can happen if Jews ever lose Israel again.

Stories of IDF service were presented by Sgt. Mauricio Glucksmann, who escaped from Venezuela to serve in the IDF and later attended college on an FIDF Impact scholarship, and by Lt. Ofir Asulin, who showed resilience in returning to serve her country after a fellow soldier risked his life to save hers.

During an interview with the AJT, Bennett spoke about President Donald Trump’s plan to visit Israel on May 22, 10 days before a decision is due on whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

“I hope President Trump realizes that Israel is the epicenter of the free world in a very tough area,” Bennett said. “Israel is surrounded by Hezbollah, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas on all our borders, yet we are a thriving democracy, and we are defending the West, the free world, there. I encourage President Trump to realize the value and to also connect on a personal level to Israelis.”

Bennett thanked FIDF and Atlanta’s Jewish community for their unyielding support. “We in Israel care about every Jew in the world and hold ourselves responsible to that endeavor, and knowing you are there for us in return means everything.”