Some 500 community leaders gathered March 20 at the Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Texas Chapter Gala Dinner, which raised $500,000 to support well-being and educational programs for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
The gala, which has become one of the Houston Jewish community's largest events, featured a keynote speech by Anat Ariel, the bereaved mother of Israeli Air Force (IAF) Capt. Tamar Ariel Z"L, the first Orthodox Israeli woman to navigate an F-16 fighter jet in combat, who was killed in a Nepal avalanche in 2014.
"Tamar was the first religious young woman to complete the pilot's course. It wasn't easy but she loved a challenge and was respected by everyone," said Ariel. "After Operation Protective Edge, Tamar took a well-deserved vacation to Nepal with some friends. A horrible snowstorm had hit the region where they were hiking. Later we learned that, even in the freezing storm, Tamar took control of the group, helping to clear paths and even warming her friends' bodies. Thanks to her, two of them are still alive today."
Also speaking were IDF soldiers Capt. "O.," a pilot in the IAF; Sgt. (Res.) Emma, who immigrated to Israel from the U.K. and served in the Military Police Corps; and Sgt. (Res.) Yonat, a combat paramedic.
The gala was co-chaired by Sandra and Steve Finkelman and Rhoda and Steve Saka.
"It is a privilege to be able to support all the incredible work FIDF accomplishes. Our comfortable lives in the Diaspora are totally connected with the safety and strength of Israel. That is why supporting the IDF soldiers is our mission – it is the least that we can do to ensure a strong Israel and a strong Jewish Diaspora," said FIDF Texas Chairman Max Blankfeld.
Other distinguished guests included FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; Blankfeld; FIDF Texas Chapter Development Director Danny Gutman; and former Lone Soldiers – those who immigrate to Israel without immediate family in order to serve in the IDF – from the Texas community.
"The brave soldiers of the IDF risk everything to safeguard Israel and Jews around the world," said Gutman. "This gala gave our supporters an intimate way to meet and personally thank these young men and women for their service, and to see the impact they have on the soldiers' lives."