Each year, ahead of the Celebrate Israel Parade, Jewish New Yorkers find different ways to pay tribute to the Holy Land. This year, after three long years without outdoor festivities, I opted to raise a glass with two gentlemen who play a vital role in Israeli politics. As I entered Mike’s Bistro in Manhattan two weeks ago, I was welcomed by the warm embrace of Gild Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. The handshake of the former Minister of the Knesset for the Likud party set the tone for the evening at the Israel Heritage Foundation’s (IHF) Yom HaAtzmaut celebratory dinner.
Seated across the table from dinner coordinators Judah and Carol Rhine of West Hempstead, I was quick to absorb how everyone involved at IHF works to keep the hopes and dreams of Holocaust survivors alive, while supporting aliyah and sovereignty throughout all areas of Israel.
We live in an era where six open anti-Semites sit in the United States House of Representatives, promoting Palestinians’ right to return and espousing anti-Israel rhetoric that many of their peers do not denounce.
Rabbi Duvid Katz, Executive Director of IHF, presented IHF Honorary President Jerry Wartski with a talis for his efforts on behalf of World Jewry on his 92nd birthday. “May you wear this for a long life.” Wartski, a Manhattan restaurateur, survived the Holocaust and created a beautiful journey here in America as testament to the bravery of Jews from the Shoah.
The tragedy of World War II is the most common form of anti-Semitism studied, but life continues with many of the same ideologies. Rabbi Meir Melnicke, nursing home magnate and ambassador-at-large for Grenada, said, “We may not be biological brothers, but with common cause, no matter our level of observance, we are all brothers, because in unity there is strength. The guest speaker addressed the onset of Lag BaOmer that evening: “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai [Rashbi] was a second-century sage in ancient Judea who studied under Rabbi Akiva for 13 years, and later became the author of the Zohar.” Rabbi Melnicke described Rashbi’s life and how today we celebrate on this day, the same as his birthday and anniversary. “We live in a turbulent time. A time of persecution and destruction no different from 2,000 years ago, after the destruction (of the Beis HaMikdash). Anti-Semitism is still here, just in a different place. We live in a time when everyone loves the Jews – sarcastically. Tonight, heritage, Yom HaAtzmaut, and Lag BaOmer come together. May we create a flame of fire so strong that Mashiach will come and bring us back home together, because no matter how we practice our religion, we are one.”
“Israel is faced with a double standard,” related Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, dinner chairman and IHF Executive Vice President. “If we have a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism, we get accused if someone gets hurt. But, when they come and kill our innocents, there is not a word. The world is silent; the UN is silent, and we have to suffer in silence. But we are not a silent people, and nobody will ever take us on lightly anymore. We will be strong.”
“Israel must always be on the offensive at the UN,” announced Ambassador Erdan. “I work very hard every day to fight against the lies and the incitement that are being spread against Israel at the UN.” Erdan added that he spends his day fighting falsehoods at the UN that may one day harm the Jewish people or the State of Israel. He noted that the myriad of international legal bodies and use of social media disseminating the anti-Jewish rhetoric can be used to chase our soldiers at the International Criminal Court or to put pressure on companies like Ben & Jerry’s to boycott Israel.
There used to be an automatic majority against Israel at the UN. Erdan created a two-part strategy to “diminish, erode, or neutralize” the automatic majority.
“The first part is to always be on the offensive.” Erdan explained this to mean that Israel is a moral country, and the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East. Erdan explained that he uses his time to “expose the hypocrisy of our enemies” and to fight against their dishonesties.
Second, Erdan says that to strengthen bilateral relations with member States, he must showcase Israel’s contributions to the world as a world leader on many of the issues, like water scarcity, renewable energy, and digital health. Erdan has reported that his efforts have helped some break from their regional or religious groups at the UN and change their voting patterns from the groups where they once shared partnership. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and areas where there is a strong majority of Evangelical Christians, like in Guatemala, are some recent examples of successes.
Of his time at the UN, Erdan confirmed the place to be a “convoluted organization comprised of 193 member states divided into regional or religious groups like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes 57 Islamic member states.”
Martin Oliner, Village of Lawrence Trustee, co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, and chair of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, explained that Erdan is actually the Moses of today, who has made extraordinary strides at the UN amounting to over a thousand people attending a recent celebration for Israel.
Farley Weiss, IHF Chairman, offered, “There is a view that if you are a spokesperson for Israel, it made more sense to send people from the Left to the United Nations to speak on behalf of the country. Danny Danon showed that it is actually the opposite. You need people from the Right: people who say unabashedly that the land of Israel – Judea and Samaria – that we have the right to Israel.” Weiss, a former president of the National Council of Young Israel and an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy, spoke passionately about how we must fight to ensure that Israel is represented in Congress.
“Dr. Frager took me to Israel two years ago,” said Jonathan Burkan, dinner co-chairman, in his remarks to Ambassador Danon. “We went with the Israeli army around midnight and the Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at our convoy. This changed my life.” Burkan, the Congressional Finance Chair of Republicans, and a Board Member of the Holocaust Museum in DC, explained that he found religion from this tour where he saw Chevron and the kever of Yosef HaTzadik, a place where Jews were banned for nearly 800 years.
Bruce Blakeman, Nassau County Executive, has vast experience in government and homeland security. As the first Jew elected in his position, Blakeman spoke about the connection of Israel to the American Jewish people and how Nassau County is at the forefront of fighting anti-Semitism. In doing so, Blakeman came prepared with a Citation that he awarded to Ambassador Danon, “Today, I have declared Danny Danon Day in Nassau County. Blakeman pointed to Danon’s politics and principles as being “spot on.” However, Blakeman pushed for more involvement from American politicians on behalf of America’s greatest Middle Eastern ally: Israel. Blakeman spoke of a newly formed Anti-Semitism Commission that he formed to combat the hate with education for the ignorant who never heard of the Shoah. Throughout the event, many observed how Nassau County is a growing region, to the tune of 14 percent annually. Israel must look towards such areas for support. Nassau County has a population larger than nine US states, including over 300,000 Jews, and a gross domestic product larger than 140 nations in the UN.
Just last week, Blakeman signed a cooperation agreement with the areas of Judea and Samaria relating to economic issues, culture, and friendship. “All around the world there are factions – both violent and political – trying to delegitimatize Israel. Blakeman noted that historically these areas have been a part of Israel and that using them as a defense mechanism is critical. When there is a conflict and an area is taken for defensive action, that is a legitimate acquisition of territory. “I have been to the Shomron many times, and when you go up to the hills overlooking Tel Aviv, it is very clear that if the Palestinian Authority were to gain control of that high ground overlooking Tel Aviv, then it would be a military disaster for Israel. Blakeman added that his attorneys tried to dissuade him from signing the deal, citing an international law violation that Blakeman had to legitimize in detail.
“Hashem works in mysterious ways,” said Danon, head of World Likud. The former ambassador, who has returned to New York after his five-year tenure at the UN to promote his book, In The Lion’s Den, was referring to Meretz MK Rinawie Zoabi of the most radical left-wing party quitting the coalition due to its harassment of Arabs. “This is a sign that we are going to start to bring back Judaism to where it should be, and how remarkable it is to start this on Lag BaOmer. I cannot tell you when the next election is going to be, but it is happening already, and we will go back to power very soon.” Danon, who had taken over 100 ambassadors to Israel, developed a lifelong friendship with then US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey. He pledged to correct the damages of this government that allows radical MKs to dictate the policies. Danon blamed the government for the dangers currently in the Old City and on the Temple Mount. Danon, who conducted the first mock Seder at the UN, referred to this past Pesach when Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz encouraged hospitals to keep chametz in stock. “We will do the exact opposite and make sure to take out the radical progressive ideas from the schools and from hospitals and give our children a proper education.”
“It is one of our missteps,” Frager said of the hastily formed government in Israel. “Here in America, we have to get more leaders who are just more pro-Jewish.” It is well known that the character of Israel relies heavily on American Jewry, and the negative forces in our midst will one day drive us all to make aliyah.
Other dignitaries included Dr. Stephen Soloway, MD, of Rheumatology Castle Connolly, Chairman of Rheumatology at Inspira Health Network, and an appointee of President Donald Trump to the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition; Mr. Josh Eisen, Independent Congressional Candidate for New York’s 17th District; IHF Vice President Stanley Sved, former president of the Young Israel of Elkins Park and the Young Israel of the Main Line, and former regional vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
We all must continue to support Israel and show her people our unconditional love.