Brigitte Gabriel is a Lebanese Maronite Christian who believes her life was saved by the Israeli military’s 1978 incursion into her country, and is now known for her expertise on Muslim extremism and global terror.
On Monday, Nov. 21, she will be keynote speaker at the annual Friends of the Israel Defense Forces New Jersey Tribute Dinner at the Sheraton Parsippany hotel.
The dinner will also honor about 200 “lone soldiers” — IDF members who have no immediate family in Israel. Some of the honorees are from New Jersey, and the NJ chapter is often referred to as the “lone soldier chapter” because its founders were among that group
It’s the lone soldiers who “are the real stars of this event,” said FIDF NJ director Howard Gases. “They are the best spokespeople for what we do.”
About 450 people are expected to attend an event that brought in $4.3 million last year. The money sponsors educational, social, cultural, and recreational programs and facilities for lone soldiers and former and current IDF members and is used to support the families of fallen soldiers. Gases said they are hoping to up the amount to $4.7 million this year.
Gabriel was a preteen in southern Lebanon when she was wounded and buried under the rubble after a barrage of Muslim rockets exploded in her house in the first attack of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. She and her family spent the next seven years in subterranean hiding during the ensuing battles.
“Not only does the Israel Defense Forces serve and protect its people, but the IDF also remains the most moral army in the world — even as it fights on the front lines against the vicious scourge of terrorism,” she said in a statement.
She began her career as an anchor for World News, the Arabic show broadcast by Middle East Television and seen throughout Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus, and Lebanon. Among her assignments was covering the Israeli security zone in Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank.
A board member of the Intelligence Summit, she lectures globally about terrorism and current affairs; among the groups she has addressed are the United Nations, British Parliament/House of Commons, U.S. Congress, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the FBI. Additionally, Gabriel is a regular guest analyst on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and various radio stations.
IDF soldiers will also attend the dinner, including Reserve Staff Sgt. Oran Almog, who volunteered to join the Intelligence Corps despite being blinded in a 2004 terrorist attack at a Haifa restaurant. Several members of his family were killed in the incident as well as an Ethiopian Israeli who served as an officer in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
Also in attendance at the event will be past FIDF national board member Josef “Chick” Paradis of Livingston. Paradis, who grew up in Haifa, was seriously wounded as an IDF sergeant in the Yom Kippur War, requiring a seven-month hospital stay and a two-year recovery. He met his wife, Shelley, an American, on a kibbutz where she was volunteering in the orchards. They moved to the United States in 1979 at the request of his father-in-law, Arie Halpern of Elizabeth and Springfield — a major Jewish philanthropist — to work in the family business, Atlantic Realty Development, where Paradis is now a principal. The new Rutgers Hillel building on the New Brunswick campus is named in memory of Halpern and his wife, Eva.
In a phone interview from his Woodbridge office, Paradis said he has been a witness to the work FIDF does providing support for soldiers and their families.
“They have many programs, and you can choose where you want to give your money,” he said, including supporting those who can’t afford to attend college once they finish their service, providing sports and recreational opportunities for wounded soldiers, and assisting bereaved families.
And true to the NJ chapter’s roots, it is always there for the lone soldiers.
“I think it’s toughest for them mentally,” said Paradis. “It was much easier for me when I was in the army. I was able to see my mother and took home my clothes to be washed.”