More than 600 people turned out Sept. 17 for “A Night of Heroes,” the annual gala of the Baltimore chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Held at Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation, the event was chaired by local Jewish community activists Jack and Ellen Kahan Zager. Unfortunately, the Zagers could not attend due to being hospitalized in Montana after sustaining non-life threatening injuries from a horseback-riding accident while vacationing there.  

In their absence, the Zagers’ daughters, Laura Zager and Sara Chapper, delivered their remarks and welcomed guests. 

“They want you to know that they’re fine and hope you all have a great time,” Chapper said.

FIDF supports Israeli soldiers by providing them and their families with educational, cultural and recreational opportunities and social services. FIDF Baltimore is part of FIDF’s Mid-Atlantic region, encompassing Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Virginia. 

The gala featured speeches by Mitch Gold, FIDF Baltimore’s outgoing president and co-founder, and Reut Friedman, director of the chapter. 

Beth Tfiloh’s Rabbi Eli Yogev offered a prayer for the safety of IDF soldiers, while Joel Chassnoff, an American comedian who made aliyah to serve in the IDF as a teenager, served as the evening’s emcee.

After cocktails and dinner, guests listened to heartfelt speeches delivered by soldiers who traveled from Israel to be part of the event. Guests also watched video presentations showcasing the organization’s work on behalf of soldiers and their families. 

“Sergeant Noam,” a young soldier whose father was killed during his IDF tenure, described how FIDF’s Legacy Summer Camp helped her to cope with the loss by connecting her with other young people who experienced similar tragedies.

“Major Iosef,” a troop leader in Operation Northern Shield, an IDF operation to discover and destroy tunnels constructed by Hezbollah, spoke about the mission and the important role that FIDF has played in his life. 

In addition, “1st Lt. Mickael” honored his FIDF sponsors, Tova and Rony Natanzon of Baltimore. He said the couple’s generosity enabled him to study law while supporting his family after serving in the military. As a token of his gratitude, he presented the Natanzons with his IDF beret.

Among those in attendance were JNF Baltimore President Orly Shalem and her husband, Ron. “Tonight is all about the soldiers of Israel,” she said. “My husband and I are both [former] IDF soldiers and parents of a Lone Soldier [Dean Shalem]. For that reason and so many more, we are here tonight.”

Added Ron Shalem: “Our biggest connection [to FIDF] is that we both grew up in Israel and went into the army. We feel very connected to the organization and what they do, not to mention the love we have for the State of Israel. We are very proud to be Jewish and a part of this community for 28 years.”

Steven A. Cohen, executive director of Israel Bonds in Maryland, said he’s “a big fan of FIDF. I’ve been coming to these galas for many years. I love what they do for the soldiers. It’s a fantastically run organization. Israel Bonds and FIDF have a double mitzvah program, so someone can buy an Israel Bond and make their gift to FIDF using the same dollars. When the bond matures, the money goes to FIDF.”

Alex Pomerantz, director of FIDF Virginia, said galas provide an opportunity for the organization’s supporters to “come together. FIDF is an apolitical organization. It doesn’t matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, or whether you’re Conservative, Reform or Orthodox. 

“Everyone loves Israel and wants to say thank-you to the soldiers.”

For information about FIDF, visit fidf.org.