Yom Yerushalayim was celebrated by Ateret Cohanim/Jerusalem Chai with a remarkable dinner at Terrace on the Park on Wednesday, June 1. Led by Rabbi Dr. Joseph Frager, Chairman of the Board, and his team of Daniel Luria, Executive Director and International Spokesman; Chaim Leibtag, Director; and Shani Hikind, Executive Vice President; Guests of Honor Josh Nass, Dr. Gene and Polina Berkovich, Michal Harris, and Amalie Heching all partook in accepting their honor for celebrating the heart of Israel and strengthening Jewish roots in Yerushalayim. The program featured remarks by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, and New York City Council Member Inna Vernikov, as well as a tribute to Reb Zerach Epstein z”l, and Mel and Mildred Wadler, founders.
As Yaakov Serle, co-publisher of the Queens Jewish Link/Bukharian Jewish Link, and I took the elevator up to greet the Secretary, the enormity and reach of Ateret Cohanim’s work became reality. Much of their efforts ensure that Jews have the right to live side-by-side with Muslims and Christians in any and every single neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem like the Yemenite Jews of 1882 did in the Yemenite Village, Kidmat Zion and Kfar HaTeimanim – Shiloach along the slopes of Maalei HaZeisim, and the Old City.
To rousing cheers, Dr. Frager raised a bottle of Psagot Pompeo Special Edition 2020 that was created during a historic trip where the Secretary as first top American diplomat visited Yaakov Berg’s West Bank winery, where wine is made in legality. “It does harden me and strengthen me knowing that there are people working in Judea and Samaria selling what is Israel’s product from that place,” began Pompeo’s remarks. “We came to understand the world as it was,” said Pompeo on his 1,000 days that he served in the Trump White House. “I, as an Evangelical Christian, came to know this place [Judea and Samaria] as the rightful homeland of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. We knew this as a fact. I knew it from reading the Bible.” Pompeo himself just returned from a visit to Eretz Yisrael, where he traveled with former Ambassador David Friedman along Rt. 60, Derech HaAvot, from Nazareth to Jerusalem to Chevron, Bethlehem, Shilo, and all the way down to Be’er Sheva.
“It is not possible to visit the tomb of Abraham and Sarah. It is not possible to go see the places where Jesus of Nazareth walked and not know that 3,000 years of Jewish history is real, serious, and important,” adding, “When it came to the deep connection between the United States and Israel, we were fearless, we never gave an inch. We were fearless of anyone who challenged the central underpinnings of Zionism.”
“We knew G-d could not continue to let this man continue to terrorize and threaten,” said Pompeo of the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated foreign terrorist. “It is a blessing that he will not threaten another Israeli or American again. The nation of Israel is not an apartheid state and is not an occupying force. The Jewish people are the rightful heir to every part of this land.”
“What we believed we could do is acknowledge that the Palestinians were never going to make a deal for peace, and that we were not going to wait. We were prepared to build with Arab friends, with Muslim friends, peace and stability that would last a lifetime for all of us. And we did it!” declared Pompeo on the creation of the Abraham Accords.
Pompeo closed with a direct message for elected officials: “Fearlessly call out anti-Semitism wherever you are and work to serve and protect this most important city of Jerusalem.” Mrs. Hikind read the award: “Provide for yourself distinguished people who are wise, understanding, and respected, and I should appoint them as your leaders.” Additionally, Mr. Luria presented Pompeo with a rendering of Mark Twain’s Bible, emblazoned with the Hebrew name Yerushalayim, an understanding that G-d should be seen, feared, and revered. “It has both a Jewish aspect and a worldly aspect,” said Luria.
Josh Nass, Bonei Yerushalayim awardee, was introduced by Pompeo’s spokesperson Heather Nauert for his work to advance the Israeli-American relationship. “Ateret Cohanim has the convictions to stand up for what is right, regardless of what might be popular,” said Nass. “When a Jew is exposed to the Torah for the first time, there is a spark within him that exists. My pintele Yid was first ignited when I landed on the ground in the State of Israel.” Nass, who lived during his yeshivah year in the Old City, took on those claiming that Israel has no right to dwell there: “They are being intellectuality dishonest. We need to be doing a better job making sure that our lawmakers hear us. It is only then that we will make an impact in terms of number of lawmakers who will really stand unequivocally with the State of Israel.” On campus anti-Semitism, Nass called for more support morally, and otherwise, for those who are pro-Israel on campuses, and ensure that truthful, accurate info is provided to college students.
Dr. Gene and Polina Berkovitch originally settled in Kew Gardens Hills and currently live in Woodmere. Gene, born in Russia, and Polina, born in Ukraine, established early appreciation and love for Israel. Today, Gene feels a tear well in his eyes when he begins his descent on Highway 1. Polina said her full appreciation for Eretz Yisrael came about when she landed there and saw people kissing the land. “It is the central part of our lives,” related Gene, whose family also spoke of their love for Israel. The couple dedicated the award to their own parents who are refuseniks, who were widely denied immigration rights to Israel.
The dinner also marked the return of Dr. Paul Brody to public events. I extend heartfelt wishes of r’fuah to Dr. Brody, who continues to recover from a fall. He was joined by his daughter Limor, representative of the next generation of young professionals, within whom he embedded the essence of the omnipresent flag of Jerusalem that Dr. Brody proudly carries in his pocket.
The event drew many friends of Israel. I appreciated the comradeship of longtime friends Chaplain Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz, Zvika Bornstein of Far Rockaway, Rabbi Duvid Katz of the Israel Heritage Foundation, Rabbi Marty Katz of Just One Life, NYPD Inspector Richie Taylor of the Community Affairs Division, Joel Eisdorfer (Senior Advisor to NYC Mayor Eric Adams), Commissioner Fred Kreizman of the Community Affairs Unit, and the many others who brightened the night.
By Shabsie Saphirstein