The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) raised $24 million at the annual gala held at New York’s historic Waldorf Astoria, the organizers said.

The funds raised at the gala goes towards providing academic scholarships to former combat soldiers, financial support for underprivileged soldiers and Lone Soldiers from around the world, crucial aid for wounded veterans, weeks of rest and recreation for entire IDF units, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities.

Notable among the donations was a $2 million anonymous matching gift made towards the FIDF Formal Education Program, which allows soldiers to complete 12 years of high-school education as part of their military service. In addition, $5 million was pledged by The Marcus Foundation with Nefesh B’Nefesh to benefit Lone Soldiers; $1.5 million was pledged by President of FIDF NY Young Leadership (YL) Lemor Bar-Or, on behalf of YL-NY; $1.3 million was pledged by Genesis Philanthropy Group North America; $1.2 million was pledged by the FIDF NY Real Estate Division; $1 million was pledged by Beit Morasha of Jerusalem for Identity and Purpose Programs; $1 million was pledged by Israeli Journey; $600,000 was pledged by the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF); $500,000 was pledged by Hope for Heroism; $500,000 was pledged by Nily Falic; $400,000 was pledged by Joseph Weintraub, Rabbi Weintraub’s son; and $330,000 was pledged by former FIDF National Dinner Chairman Benny Shabtai.

Featured as the keynote speaker, The head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, told the gathering that Israel must be “prepared” for new conflicts along its northern border with Syria, whose internal violence seems like “50 shades of black.”

“Syria has long ceased to be the state we all knew four years ago. We call it ‘50 Shades of Black,’ though I must admit I haven’t read the ‘grey’ version. One needs to take only a glimpse at their inner executions to understand why we must be prepared in the northern border,” he said.

The head of IDF intelligence also said that the so-called Arab Spring has turned into a wider religious war redrawing the Middle East. “The maps of our area have been changing in front of our eyes. Borders drawn more than a century ago are being recklessly erased. The upheaval in the Middle East has turned into a religious struggle among armed factions,” said Halevi.

Special guests included 30 IDF soldiers of various ranks and military units, including 2nd Lt. Enbal, an educational officer in the Artillery Corps, whose brother, 1st Sgt. Avi, z”l, was shot and killed in Bet Hanoun, near Gaza, during Operation Protective Edge this past summer. Addressing the audience, 2nd Lt. Enbal shared her personal memories of her brother, who posthumously received a citation for his bravery. Most of the soldiers who attended the Gala received citations for heroism, including in Operation Protective Edge and Operation Pillar of Defense.

Distinguished guests included the author and nationally syndicated radio host, Dr. Monica Crowley, who served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies; IDF’s 19th Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the U.S. and Canada Maj. Gen. Yaacob Ayish; Consul General of Israel in New York Ido Aharoni; and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon.