CHICAGO, June 9 – Nearly 900 community leaders gathered Monday for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Central Region Annual Dinner at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, which raised $1 million to support educational and well-being programs for the brave men and women of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The gala, one of the Chicago Jewish community’s largest events, featured keynote speaker David (Dudu) Bakal, the father of Alon Bakal Z’’L, an FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship recipient who was murdered in a Tel Aviv terrorist attack in January.

“Alon embodied everything that we support: he served his country faithfully and heroically and worked hard to help contribute to the State of Israel,” said FIDF Midwest Executive Director Tamir Oppenheim. “This dinner is a tribute to his memory – and a salute to the soldiers who continue to stand watch over the Jewish homeland and Jews worldwide. While they look after Israel, our job is to look after them.”

The FIDF IMPACT! Program grants full academic scholarships to IDF combat veterans. On Monday night the FIDF Central Region announced that the Chicago community would sponsor an FIDF IMPACT! Scholarship for Alon’s sister, Bar-Levav, who recently finished her service in the IDF and dreams of pursuing a college education.

Monday’s event also honored Lone Soldiers – those who immigrate to Israel with no immediate family to volunteer in the IDF. Attending were active-duty and former IDF soldiers, including Sgt. Omri, a Lone Soldier originally from the North Shore and who currently serves in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade.

“My grandfather fought in WWII and served in the Haganah – the precursor to the IDF – and my father served as an Israeli paratrooper, which is how he met my mother, who helped fold the parachutes. You could say I’m keeping it in the family,” said Staff Sgt. Omri. “The FIDF Central Region adopted the Paratroopers Brigade and has done so many great things – not only for Lone Soldiers, but for all the soldiers in my unit. At every single base I can see your support – whether it be recreational facilities, weeks of rest and recreation or help finding a warm meal and bed for Shabbat.”

Last month, the FIDF Midwest Region brought eight soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade, which the FIDF Midwest Region adopted as part of the FIDF Adopt-A-Brigade Program, to the Chicago area to commemorate Israel’s Memorial Day and celebrate Israel’s Independence Day. The paratroopers visited schools and synagogues across Chicago and the North Shore, meeting with some 2,000 local supporters and members of these communities. The FIDF Adopt-A-Brigade Program allows supporters to go beyond their donation to get more involved, providing financial aid for IDF soldiers in-need and their families, supporting Lone Soldiers, and funding general well-being activities and weeks of rest and recuperation for soldiers of the adopted brigade.

Co-chairing Monday’s event were FIDF Central Region Chairman Daniel J. Hyman and Thomas Kane. Presiding as the dinner’s master of ceremonies was comedian, author and former Lone Soldier Joel Chasnoff. A Chicago native, Chasnoff volunteered to serve in the IDF’s Armored Corps with a tour of duty in South Lebanon, later writing about his experience in “The 188th Crybaby Brigade.”

Distinguished guests included American veterans Jeff Sacks and Mike Zimmerman; members of the Israel Defense Forces delegation Israeli Navy Capt. Dror; 1st Lt. Shlomi; Sgt. 1st Class (Res.) Safi; Sgt. (Res.) Shai; and Sgt. (Res.) Hen.

Funds raised at Monday’s event will go toward FIDF well-being and educational programs for IDF soldiers.

Click here to see all the photos from the event




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