Central Region Annual Dinner an Inspiring evening Honoring Israel’s Brave Heroes in Uniform


800 community leaders gathered last Thursday night for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Central Region Annual Dinner at the Hilton Chicago to support the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The evening featured wounded Israeli war hero IDF Capt. Ziv Shilon; wounded U.S. Army war hero Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Brian Mast; and IDF Staff Sgt. Danielle, a native of Chicago’s northern suburbs who immigrated on her own to Israel to enlist as a Lone Soldier in the IDF, where she serves in a special operations canine unit. Danielle (whose full name cannot be used for security reasons) and her dog, Roni – which joined her at the event – uncovered a terrorist weapons cache last winter; and Staff Sgt. Elle Shmuel who was one of the only woman combat soldiers to enter Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. 

Shilon, 27, was a company commander in the IDF’s Givati Brigade and lost an arm in a Hamas terror attack near the Gaza Strip security fence. Mast, 34, lost his legs in a bombing attack while serving in Afghanistan. A father of three, Mast attends Harvard University, where anti-Israel campus protests inspired him to volunteer on an IDF base to support Israel’s soldiers.

Both of the wounded veterans stated that Israel and the U.S. share a united front in defending democracy and freedom in the war on terror. “The thousands of American heroes and the sons and daughters of Israel, all of whom spend each day and night combatting this evil, will never give up, will never give in, and will always ensure with everything they have to give that, for those desiring freedom for all, there will always be a place to come home to,” said Mast.

Presiding as the dinner’s master of ceremonies was comedian, author and former IDF combat soldier Joel Chasnoff. An Evanston native, Chasnoff volunteered to serve in the IDF’s Armored Corps as a Lone Soldier with a tour of duty in South Lebanon, later writing about his experience in The 188th Crybaby Brigade.

“Our annual dinner provided an inspiring night of celebration for the Chicago-area Jewish community and all supporters of Israel to honor the brave men and women who defend and protect the Jewish homeland,” said FIDF Midwest Region Executive Director Tamir Oppenheim. “We were especially privileged this year to recognize two heroic veterans from Israel and the U.S. – Capt. Shilon and Staff Sgt. Mast.”

Co-chairing the event were Daniel Hyman, Lori Komisar, Richard Sheiner and Noga Villalon. Several active-duty IDF soldiers also attended the gala in addition to Senator Mark Kirk.

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