Raising an all-time high of $60 million, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) topped last year’s record-breaking fundraiser by $6.2 million at the annual FIDF Western Region Gala, held at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday evening.
In his speech, gala chair Haim Saban saluted the Israeli soldiers who were honored for outstanding service. “Tonight you have seen up close the unbreakable spirit and the unimaginable bravery of our IDF soldiers and their families,” said Saban, who chaired the gala along with his wife, Cheryl, for their 12th consecutive year. “Standing behind these heroes is one of my greatest honors in my life.”
The money raised goes to support IDF soldiers, and the families of fallen soldiers and wounded veterans through social, cultural, recreational, and educational programs. Several donations from Thursday night will go directly to the Impact Scholarship Program, dedicated to helping combat veterans return to school. In addition to helping Israeli veterans, the organization seeks to maintain and nourish the strong bond between communities in the United States and the state of Israel.
The star-studded event included appearances from Gerard Butler, Ashton Kutcher, Katharine McPhee and fiance David Foster, Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, and Israeli actors Ronalee Shimon and Yaakov Daniel from Netflix’s political thriller series “Fauda.”
Providing entertainment was musical guest Pharrell Williams, who took a moment to share a few words about last week’s deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Look, what happened in that synagogue was incredibly cruel, it was wrong, and it’s not supposed to be what our nation is,” Williams said. “This group of people have been tested over and over and over again … but you guys show an incredible resilience.”
He closed the evening with a performance of “Happy.” “This song reminds us of something you can use when you’re down, when things are discouraging,” Williams said. “So, that being said, let’s celebrate right now. Let’s be happy.”
Earlier in the week, Williams sent a cease and desist letter to President Donald Trump, demanding he not play “Happy” at any of his rallies after the song was played during a political event after the Pittsburgh shooting.