The excitement in the air was palpable as a capacity crowd filed into the majestic Terrace on the Park in Flushing, New York, on Thursday night, March 15. Over 700 people representing a broad cross-section of American Jewry converged to celebrate the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI), fete an array of worthy honorees, mark 70 years of the state of Israel and applaud the United States’ declaration of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel.
Coordinated by Judah and Carol Rhine of the Young Israel of West Hempstead, the dinner began with NCYI Director of Rabbinic Services Rabbi Binyamin Hammer leading the recitation of the special prayers for the state of Israel and the heroes of the Israel Defense Forces.
Dinner Chairman and NCYI 1st Vice President Dr. Joseph Frager welcomed the many dignitaries in attendance, which included New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, a member of two Young Israel synagogues; Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York State Republican Committee and the son-in-law of President Richard Nixon; Rabbi Paysach Krohn, a renowned mohel, author and lecturer; and several other members of the New York State Assembly and New York City Council.
Dr. Frager then recognized the worthy honorees who embody the values and core mission of the National Council of Young Israel and thanked President Trump for his love of Israel and the Jewish people and his commitment to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Dr. Frager also expressed the NCYI’s gratitude to President Trump for commuting what many deemed to be the disproportionate 27-year-old prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former executive of Agriprocessors.
After discussing his travels to numerous Young Israel branches throughout North America and his interaction with the synagogues’ rabbis, lay leaders and congregants, NCYI Executive Director Rabbi Marc Volk elaborated on what the NCYI does and noted how important it is to the greater Jewish community. Rabbi Volk specifically mentioned the NCYI regional conferences, which give Young Israel synagogues the unique opportunity to share ideas and experiences and collaborate on projects, as well as programs aimed at teaching college students how to properly address anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitism they may encounter at school.
David Drucker, senior editor of the Washington Examiner and a CNN contributor/political analyst who served as the master of ceremonies, introduced Nivia Rosemary Arauz Monzon, the consul general of Guatemala, who received a warm welcome from the crowd. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales recently announced that his country, like the United States, recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and will also move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The consul general talked about her country’s historic decision and said that her president noted, “It’s the right thing to do.” In addition, she spoke about Guatemala’s history of support for Israel and the excellent bilateral relations that the two nations enjoy. Following her remarks, the consul general was presented with a special award from Jerusalem City Councilman Arieh King, the NCYI leadership and Young Leadership Awardee Rabbi Duvi Honig on behalf of the citizens of Israel’s capital.
Sander Gerber, CEO of Hudson Bay Capital and the architect of the Taylor Force Act, talked about his advocacy efforts to pass landmark legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it publicly denounces terrorism, works to end violent terrorist acts and terminates the practice of giving stipends for terrorists. In a somber tone, he noted how the PA had a celebration after Taylor Force was murdered by terrorists. “For the Palestinian Authority, it was normal, but for the Force family, it was not normal,” he said. Gerber also lauded the Force family’s decision to take their son and brother’s death and utilize it to effectuate change.
When Stuart Force, the father of Taylor Force, was introduced, he was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. In an emotional address, he described the chilling and surreal experience of receiving a phone call on March 8, 2016, informing him that his son was stabbed in a terrorist attack in Jaffa. He talked about the pain he endured and the impossible task of telling his wife and daughter that their 28-year-old son and brother had been murdered. Mr. Force portrayed his son as someone whose glass was always full and as an individual who lived his life by putting God first, others second and himself last. He stated that Taylor, who was the first person in their family to travel to Israel, did so after being deeply affected by a tour he took of Auschwitz and being positively influenced by a close Jewish friend, and was doing what he wanted to do by learning about Israel and experiencing life there. “Taylor was in the right place at the right time; the terrorist was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “There is no right time for terrorism.” As he concluded his remarks, Mr. Force noted that his family was looking forward to watching President Trump sign the Taylor Force Act into law following its passage by the full Senate, which he hopes will happen soon.
After an address by Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, in which he focused on the historical significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish nation and the state of Israel, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Bayit Yehudi leader and Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett addressed the crowd in a special video message, wishing Mazal Tov to the honorees and noting the important work that the National Council of Young Israel does on a regular basis.
The honorees included Kenneth S. Abramowitz, managing general partner and co-founder of NGN Capital; Morty and Rozi Davis, owner and chairman of D.H. Blair Investment Banking Corp. and chairman of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce; Michael and Susan Gross, active members of the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst; Drs. Robert and Jennifer Lebovits, active members of the Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh; 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; Rabbi Yosef Singer, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Potomac and president of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington; Rabbi Duvi Honig, founder of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce and the non-profit Parnassah Network organization; Helen Freedman, co-executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI); and Cindy Grosz, a pro-Israel and education activist.
As part of the tribute video, NCYI President Farley Weiss spoke about the NCYI’s illustrious past and how the 107-year-old organization played a pivotal role in the revival of American Jewry. Weiss also noted the numerous ways through which the NCYI empowers communities and their leadership through its enduring and enthusiastic Israel advocacy and the wide range of programs and services that it provides its more than 25,000 member families and approximately 135 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada and Israel. Weiss specifically pointed to the fact that the NCYI was the only Jewish organization to organize a coordinated call-in campaign to the White House to support Jerusalem’s recognition in advance of President Trump’s historic announcement. “The National Council of Young Israel will not be silent,” said Weiss. “When there are issues of importance in the Jewish community, we will always speak up.”
By N. Aaron Troodler