With the military situation in Israel and global public opinion becoming more concerning, Eric Pelofsky, a resident of Highland Park, noticed an Israeli flag hanging outside Pino’s, a bar and liquor store in town. Noting that Pino’s often hosted special events supporting various groups, he had the idea to create a fundraiser and evening of support for Israel for the Highland Park and surrounding communities. Pelofsky worked with Pino’s management, initially intending to sponsor a keg of beer and some kosher pretzels and snacks, and arranged that the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey would be the beneficiary of any funds raised from the admission fee.
Notices went out over social media and word spread like wildfire throughout the community. Giddy’s Pizza of East Brunswick donated 10 pizza pies that were delivered to the event and an anonymous donor paid for an additional five. The event was held on Thursday, October 26 and the venue was packed with a standing-room-only crowd shortly after the start time of 8 p.m.
Jason Postelnik, a member of the Highland Park Borough Council, remarked on the “amazing turnout” and said “this is the most crowded event I’ve seen at Pino’s.” He thanked Pino’s for supporting the Jewish community at this time.
The unusually mild weather allowed people to take advantage of the outdoor picnic table seating at the front and side of the store, where Highland Park residents Joel Zevin and Shlomo Peleg enjoyed their beer. “With all the negative anti-Israel news, it is good to see such a large turnout in support for Israel,” said Zevin.
“It is nice to see so many Jews of all types coming to support Israel,” added Peleg.
Laura Safran, director of community impact for Federation confirmed that 330 people were in attendance. “We raised over $3,700 from ticket sales and donations. In addition, many people visited Pino’s liquor store and made purchases throughout the day to express appreciation for their support.”
Pino’s co-owner, Siobhan Commerford, originally put the flag up in acknowledgement of one of the establishment’s bartenders who was called back to Israel for active duty. She was surprised at some of the backlash and hatred that came as a result. “People were coming in and yelling at us for supporting Israel. My Irish-Catholic background came out and I was determined to not back down. I wasn’t sure if having the Israeli flag was the smart thing to do, but I know it was the right thing to do.”
Commerford added, “Once word got out about our support in the Jewish community, people have been stopping by all day. Our inventory of kosher wines and spirits has been seriously depleted by the many unexpected additional customers who have stopped by.”
As Lori Resnick of Highland Park remarked: “The Jewish community knows how to support our local businesses that are supporting Israel.”
Support for the event was not limited to the Highland Park/Edison area. Safran confirmed that “someone from Israel called in a donation to the bar in thanks, and an anonymous donor even gave their credit card and asked that the bar tap it to pay for additional beer or wine if reserves were depleted, since the person couldn’t make it to the event.”
David Seiden (formerly from Highland Park) came to the event from Linden with his wife Rebecca. He said: “I came to support Israel and the community of Highland Park, which I know has some really grounded ties with Israel.”
East Brunswick residents Bill Kokkianis and Chris Fedosh, neither of whom is Jewish, came to show support for their Jewish friends. Kokkianis grew up in Highland Park and has maintained ties to the community. Both are appalled at what happened on October 7 and are distressed at the negative world reaction to Israel’s actions to keep their country safe, and they felt it important that the Jewish community know they are not alone.
Pelofsky was thrilled with the turnout. He planned the event and would have considered it a success if 150 people came. “The attendance is unbelievable.”
There were at least four rabbis in attendance and people from all denominations of Judaism. Safran noted, “The audience really skewed younger, which is fabulous. Spirits were high, and many people paid more than the actual requested $5 in support of Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign. So far, our Federation has raised more than $400,000. Across the country, the Jewish Federation movement is raising $500 million.”
Safran continued, “I really feel the evening’s incredible success could be credited to the pervasive feeling of achdus, connection to one another, not only through our collective compassion and support for Israel, but also because—as different as we are—we are one Jewish people; one Jewish community. The half joke is that we should do it every Thursday night.”
All of the funds raised will go directly to Israel for food and financial assistance for impacted citizens: The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Funds for Victims of Terror, trauma relief and psychosocial care, Emergency Medical Services and more. Those interested in donating should visit www.Jewishheartj.org/email-donate to add their support.