Friends of the Israel Defense Forces delivered a riveting program to a crowd of more than 550 supporters at its annual gala, “A Night of Heroes,” May 13 at the newly renovated Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia.
The evening honored Garry Sobel, chairman of FIDF Southeast Region and member of the national board of directors, and raised more than $865,000. Among the speakers was keynote Maj. Gen. Michael Edelstein.
In the VIP reception before dinner, current IDF forces, including lone soldiers, and retired IDF military mingled with the crowd. FIDF Southeast Executive Director Seth Baron thanked the audience for fulfilling their call to support the soldiers. U.S. Congressman Doug Collins, currently a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve, spoke of his commitment to Israel.
The evening underscored the personal relationships Atlantans have built with the soldiers, and highlighted FIDF programs. The dinner program began with a musical performance by the IDF Ensemble. Atlantan Eran Mordel, former lone soldier and veteran of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, then introduced the many soldiers and dignitaries in attendance. “Israel not only stands for our safety, but she also represents that same hope to the world over. And, she is able to do so because her soldiers give her strength.”
Several soldiers returned to Atlanta to honor Sobel, including Jerusalem native, Ortal Halff. She recalled that she spoke at the FIDF gala five years ago as an IDF soldier for combat intelligence. The Southeast Region of FIDF has adopted the combat intelligence brigade stationed throughout Israel.
A video about a thwarted attack at the Syrian border introduced Sgt. Sa’ar, a 20-year-old combat intelligence soldier. In 2018, Sa’ar identified seven ISIS terrorists trying to cross into Israel from Syria and immediately notified troops on the ground, saving thousands of lives. “If I had I missed those terrorists, the outcome could have been catastrophic. I am from a kibbutz called Ashdot Ya’akov in Northern Israel, close to the border. … All I could think of was, ‘What would’ve happened to my family?’”
To honor Holocaust survivors, Maj. Barak Ganot led ten soldiers in tribute to the two tables of Atlanta survivors in attendance. Barak shared the story of his grandmother’s experience in Auschwitz, and his pride when he returned to the death camp as an IDF soldier in uniform, marching with an Israeli flag past what had been his grandmother’s barracks. Ganot noted, “People sometimes call us, IDF soldiers, heroes. We merely fulfill our mission at our shift. I invite the Holocaust survivors, the real heroes here in the audience, to stand up. We, as IDF soldiers, stand proud with the message of ‘never again.’”
The night culminated with the honoree and keynote speaker. Baron thanked Sobel for his partnership and friendship as they increased support for the humanitarian needs of Israel’s soldiers.
Baron announced that in 2018, FIDF Southeast Region raised a record $2.7 million, and under Sobel’s guidance, the region has raised close to $15 million. “He worked so hard; people mistook him for a paid professional. Under Garry’s leadership, the Southeast Region has been transformed,” he said.
Sobel, called to the stage by his daughter Jessica, was greeted by a rousing ovation. Before presenting his award, Baron surprised Sobel by introducing his IMPACT! scholar, whom FIDF had flown in from Israel. In a touching moment, Mariya Kol Yakov presented Sobel with her two college diplomas, which she explained would not have been possible without the FIDF IMPACT! scholarship he had sponsored.
In his moving acceptance, Sobel shared his experience with soldiers like Sgt. Asaf, an IDF lone soldier from Birmingham, Ala., who serves as “first man,” the one tasked with being the first into a room or out of a vehicle during combat. Sobel hugged Asaf goodbye the night he flew back to Israel to enter combat. He also described sitting with parents of Atlanta lone soldiers during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
Sobel explained the scope of FIDF support. “During 2018, FIDF touched 105,000 soldiers’ lives.” He detailed some flagship programs, including 4,580 IMPACT! scholarships, and support for 3,500 lone soldiers – 40 of whom are from Atlanta. Sobel continued, “As chairman, I had two primary goals: first, to take the Southeast Region to new heights, and second, to find my successor.”
“Mission accomplished!” he proclaimed, as he announced the transition of leadership to FIDF’s new Regional Chair Karen Shulman, and incoming President Itai Tsur.
Prior to introducing Edelstein, Shulman declared, “We are not here to support the IDF, we are here BECAUSE of the IDF.”
Edelstein, who is stationed in Washington, D.C., as Israel’s attaché to the Pentagon, presented a sober picture of the past year’s challenges on the Lebanese border, Hezbollah, newly emboldened direct confrontations with Iran, and the 130,000 rockets currently poised near Israel’s border. He noted the skill and readiness of Israel’s military, describing a 4 a.m. incoming missile strike that Israel repelled to the enemy’s amazement. “The U.S. is our strongest ally, with clear cooperation at the Pentagon, but we know in Israel that we have to ultimately stand for ourselves.”
“The bottom line,” he noted, “is the technology and intelligence that the young men and women of the IDF have is our true source of strength.”