Most of of the time, the Ameinu community of activisits, experience Ameinu in a “virtual” way, reading the articles, participating in our online advocacy campaigns and making contributions via the website. Ameinu had a very busy last couple of weeks in the “physical world” and I want to take the opportunity to share that experience with you.
Within a space of four days, we held our New York gala saluting 75 years of Habonim, our semi-annual national board of directors meeting and our annual dinner in Los Angeles. It was good to see hundreds of Ameinu members and friends gather to celebrate our successes, support our projects and honor individuals who contribute so much to the American Jewish community and Israel.
In New York we suffered from a problem you like to have; we planned for 200 people and ended up with 300, eventually having to close registration. Although it was crowded and the buffet lines were long, the energy level was high and people enjoyed the Israeli wine, seeing old friends, and tipping our collective hats to three people who represent the best of our movement, Leonard (Leibel) Fein, David Twersky and Rabbi Esther Lederman. They were introduced to the attendees respectively by Lilly Rivlin, J.J. Goldberg and Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon. If you are not familiar with our honorees, you can read Leonard Fein\’s comments on the evening as published in the Forward here: https://www.ameinu.net/newsalert.php?newsalertid=46 and you can read the full text of Rabbi Esther Lederman\’s acceptance speech here: https://www.ameinu.net/perspectives/campus.php?articleid=462 .
Letters of greeting from Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Senator Chuck Schumer were joined by remarks from current mazkir (director) of Habonim Dror Shawn Guttman, Treasurer of World Habonim Dror Rami Zdafee and yours truly. The cultural part of the event included a performance by Tavim, an acapella group from Teaneck, NJ, and Israeli folks dancing, quite an accomplishment for such a crowded space. To see a full photo album of the proceedings, visit the Ameinu fan page on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/#/ameinufan?ref=ts
As part of the salute to our youth movement, proceeds from the event will fund scholarships for Habonim Dror’s summer and gap year Israel programs.
Besides participating in the gala, the members of our national board tracked the implementation of our strategic plan which covers a wide range of areas; I will address this in a future communication. We also had the opportunity to spend time with two special guests from Israel. Award winning Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston graciously submitted to a question and answer session covering both domestic and foreign policy issues. In addition, we had a Torah study session with Eran Baruch, the director of BINA, a strategic partner of Ameinu. The founders of the Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, BINA established the organization as a forum for secular Israelis to explore their Jewish roots in a pluralistic, analytical, and creative way as a means to repair the world.
It was then on to Los Angeles to speak at our well attended annual dinner which honored Marty and Ettie Taft, both of whom have served in multiple national and local Ameinu leadership positions and are well known in the LA Jewish community. We also honored Yudie Fishman who has been instrumental in Ameinu’s support for NISPED, our Israeli partner in the Negev that works tirelessly on Jewish-Bedouin and Israeli-Palestinian projects. Indeed, proceeds from the event will go towards a special project focused on a program of engagement with Jewish and Bedouin high school students.
If all of this wasn’t enough to keep us busy, right before the events described above, we hosted Israeli government minister and member of Knesset Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog in our New York office for a luncheon with Ameinu members and friends, covering the gamut of Israeli issues. Herzog shared his concern about the growing delegitimization of Israel internationally and urged us to play our role on the left to combat this phenomenon. He shared his amazement that while there are 3 million unemployed in England, a leading British union spent their recent conference debating Israel.
In discussing the work of his Social Welfare and Social Services Ministry, he presented the major challenges he addresses – poverty, unemployment, seniors and the disabled. He highlighted the importance of creating more employment opportunities for Israeli Arab women and breaking that “glass ceiling” in the workplace. He also addressed the beginning of a trend of ultra-orthodox men studying secular subjects so they too can enter the workplace and cease to be a drain on society.
The topic of the current status and position of the Israeli Labor Party was of much interest to the audience. Out of respect to Herzog’s request that these comments be off the record, suffice to say that he is all too aware of the broken state of the party today and the necessity to rebuild an attractive social democratic alternative to the current choices offered to the Israeli public.
Watch this space for more commentary on this topic in the weeks and months to come.