Stevie Wouldn’t But Chaka Khan

The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) annual dinner went ahead last week, and while Stevie Wonder was not there, we got Chaka Khan instead!

Spirits were barely diminished at the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) annual dinner Thursday night, a week after headliner Stevie Wonder’s provocative and public pullout. More than 1,000 Israel supporters turned out at the Hyatt Regency in Century City for the annual gala hosted by Haim and Cheryl Saban.

The four-and-a-half hour evening steered by “Seinfeld” veteran Jason Alexander included moving, personal presentations by IDF soldiers and raised a reported $11.5 million from attendees, many of them Israeli-American business and entertainment leaders, including Avi Arad, head of Marvel Entertainment, film producer Avi Lerner, real estate developer Izek Shomof, actress and producer Noa Tishby and Oracle business magnate Larry Ellison.

Businessman and producer David Matalon offered the best line of the evening when, during the live auction-style fundraiser, he pledged $8,000 to the FIDF and, “in honor of Stevie Wonder, another $2,000.”

“I’ll have him call you to tell you he loves you,” Haim Saban quipped from the stage.

Other than that moment of levity, the silence surrounding Wonder’s cancelation continued, although emcee Alexander seized an opportunity to share some unusually candid remarks about the complexities of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In a lengthy and serious address, he talked about his love for both Israelis and Palestinians and how his work with the organization One Voice has exposed him to both sides of the conflict.

“This conflict continues because of the inability of leaders to break through this impasse and find a way to peace,” he said.

Knowing before whom he stood — a predominantly Israeli-American and Jewish crowd – Alexander was careful to balance his pro-Palestinian remarks with strong supportive messages about Israel. The most vigorous applause came when he referred to the Jewish state as the most “maligned, underappreciated and hardest challenged nation on the planet,” and expressed admiration for its soldiers.

“I believe that the men and women soldiers that defend [Israel] are among the most honorable and noble soldiers the world has ever seen,” Alexander said, though he added that sometimes, “they have made mistakes.”

He thanked the crowd for the opportunity to share his thoughts

Throughout the night, Israeli soldiers took to the podium to share their stories, many of them heart-wrenching reminders that even with its military might, the IDF has suffered profound losses. Yoni Asraf, an American who enlisted in the IDF, told the crowd how he had used his body as a shield in order to protect a fellow soldier during combat, a move that cost him an arm. He was subsequently awarded a medal for his bravery, and he refused to relinquish his post, spending years rehabilitating himself in order to rejoin his unit.

Later, an Egyptian-born mother who imigrated to Israel and lost two of her sons in combat for the IDF, delivered an astoundingly resilient message. “I am not broken,” she said. “You cannot break a spirit.”

After her emotional speech, host Cheryl Saban embraced her, while her husband looked on with misty eyes.

“As a mother myself, your story has touched me. Everyone in this room is inspired by you,” Cheryl said.

Haim Saban used his pulpit time to talk about the values of the IDF, portraying an army of ideals, of “courage, compassion, strength and sacrifice.”

Inspiration rapidly gave way to income, as Saban himself solicited donations to the FIDF from the stage. “The time is always ripe to do right,” he said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

Once millions of dollars in pledges had been collected from the crowd, Grammy-winning musician and producer David Foster orchestrated some light entertainment, with performances by “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard and a gold-glitter encrusted Chaka Khan, the Grammy winning “Queen of Funk-Soul,” who sang the hit “I’m Every Woman.”

Foster, who has coordinated the musical entertainment for the FIDF dinner for years, said in an interview that although he has never been to Israel, he has learned a thing or two about Jewish culture from all the dinners.

“I’m not Jewish,” Foster told the crowd. “But I have been circumcised, and I do know Barbra Streisand.”

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the event, which reveal Dolph Lundgren was also there, as well as Jason Alexander’s pet hamster (all photos by Alexi Rosenfeld, AJR Photography).

Update: Here’s video from the event.

Update: More here.

About Aussie Dave

An Aussie immigrant to Israel, Aussie Dave is founder of Israellycool, one of the world's most popular pro-Israel blogs (and the one you are currently reading) He is a happy family man, and a lover of steak, Australian sports and girlie drinks

comments

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  • Jim from Iowa

    I wonder if David Foster ran into Ben Vereen there.

  • Dougie

    I don’t understand why would they call someone like Jason Alexander to do this. Then again, I can’t understand how so many of these idiots supported Obama in the first place.

    • Jim from Iowa

      Maybe you could focus some of your attention on the idiots protesting this event outside of the building.

      • Dougie

        I don’t see the point when they are bringing some of the idiots to present the show.

        • walt kovacs

          how many israel haters do you suppose supported obama?

          or havent you gotten the concept that leftists arent the same as liberals

          • Dougie

            Just like conservatives aren’t rightists…
            Useful idiots.

    • juvanya

      The same Obama who strongly backed Israel against Gaza and in the UN after getting reelected?

      Get over yourselves already.

      and Im no Obama fan btw

  • Dougie

    And I wonder where are Streisand, Portman, Spielberg… all of them are so proud of their ‘Jewishness’ when they can get something out of it…

    The IDF is not as popular as it used to be with the “liberals”, huh

    • walt kovacs

      were you privy to the invite list?

      with friends like you…who needs enemies

      • Dougie

        You’re not very bright, huh? Can you bring any tweets or public support from any of them to this last Israeli military action? Of course you can’t and that’s my point.

  • olonamus

    No Seinfeld, no Streisand, no David Geffen, no Larry David and countless other celebrities are mentioned as attending/ performing/speaking/ supporting. Thank you Chaka Khan. Too bad Elvis Costello couldn’t find time in his busy schedule to
    share in the love for the IDF.

  • mzk1

    Maybe they should change the name? It’s Israel’s USO, but the name make it sound military. The Hebrew is “the band for the sake of the soldier”; doesn’t quite translate, but gives the idea.

    How about – “Friends of the Defenders of Israel”?