The following remarks were given at the Jewish Federation's "Israel Out Loud" event on May 18, 2016, in Berkeley, CA
Claudia Felson, Event Chair:
Welcome! On behalf of Federation, Foundation, and the Israel & Overseas Committee, I’d like to thank you all for joining us tonight. Our theme for the evening is – of course – Israel. And any celebration of our work in Israel – our work with at-risk youth, with impoverished communities, and with olim, to name a few – is incomplete without mentioning those who’ve made it possible.
I’m talking about two very special people here – two pillars of our community, two Federation leaders, two shining examples of what dedicated and sustained commitment to Israel looks like. I’m talking about Mathilde Albers and Jerry Yanowitz. Mathilde and Jerry have both dedicated their lives and careers to Israel – so tonight, we will celebrate their work. Please join me in congratulating and thanking them for their dedication and support of the Jewish State.
We have a wonderful evening in store for you tonight, which will include a video tribute to Mathilde and Jerry, as well as a chance to hear from them tonight, from up here. We’ll also have a hilarious routine from Israeli comedian Benji Lovitt to wrap up the evening. But first, please join me in welcoming our distinguished guest for the evening, Israeli Deputy Consul General, Ravit Baer.
Rabbi James BRandt, CEO:
The importance of, and love for, Israel amongst the Jewish community has been expressed countless times, with countless words, by countless people. But it is Israel’s national anthem – Hatikvah – in its elegant simplicity, that best expresses what Israel means to us:
“Then our hope - the two-thousand-year-old hope - will not be lost:
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Hope. Freedom. Home. That is what Israel means to Jews around the world, and why it’s so important to maintain the connection between our East Bay Jewish community and Jewish communities in Israel. Israel can be a beacon to us – showing us how a just and pluralistic society looks like (as our partners on the ground, like Dror Israel and Israel Hofsheet, and working to build), as well as offering refuge in times of crisis (as our partners JAFI and the JDC have done with the most recent waves of European and Yemenite Aliyah).
But there are challenges. Israel is faced with the same problems that flummox other modern countries: poverty, economic hardship, and inequality -- and that’s before you factor in living under the constant threat of terror, and unrelenting international pressure from forces including the BDS movement. Now, more than ever, it is important to both support Israel in the face of its many threats, as well as to work within it to build a just, equal, and pluralistic society for all its people.
And as members of a Jewish community that is doing well – which doesn’t have to live in the shadows of bigotry and anti-semitism – we bear an even greater responsibility to help out our brethren in the world’s only Jewish state.
Which is why Federation has always supported Israel, and is proud to. In fact, supporting Israel is codified as part of our mission. Of course, how we’ve supported Israel has changed, and we’ve gravitated towards grassroots efforts – ones that are helping us create the Israeli society we want, from the ground up, starting at the community level.
Take, for example, our partners at the Jewish Agency for Israel – through their Choosing Tomorrow initiative, they are encouraging and incentivizing Israeli college students, like Lianne Dym in Be’er Sheva, to begin their careers in Israels peripheral and underprivileged regions.
Or our partners at Dror Israel’s many kibbutzim throughout the country, who provide at-risk youth with mentorship, education, and emotional support, while also providing us with a workable, scalable model for co-existence between Jewish and Arab communities. This was most recently illustrated when Soujoud Abu Keif, an Arab participant, gave a moving speech in Poland about what the Dror Israel movement – and Zionism at large – has given her.
Of course, that’s not to say we don’t think bigger. We certainly do. The Jewish Agency has also helped a new generation of olim fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe – as well as certain death in Yemen – to start new lives in their ancestral homeland. One of them, Sara Tamim from France, is here tonight, offering living testimony to this work’s importance.
And Israel Hofsheet is working tirelessly to create inclusive spaces and religious freedom for Jews of all persuasions – freedoms we take for granted here in the U.S., but are not yet a reality for progressive and LGBT Jews in Israel.
And then there are the countless elderly people, Ethiopian Jews, families of terror victims, and other Israelis from all walks of life who directly benefit from the work we do. As we honor Jerry and Matilde tonight, let’s reflect on just how impactful their work has been – and how many lives they have touched.
With that, I’d like to show you a video we made for Mathilde and Jerry – a heartfelt tribute to them, in appreciation for their role in continuing our vital work in Israel.
Eileen Ruby, Foundation President:
Mathilde Albers arrived in San Francisco with her late husband, Henry, after having fled Nazi Germany. It was her experience during the Holocaust – the horrible realization she got once she saw people (supposedly her friends and neighbors) turn on her so quickly, so completely – that fueled her passion and commitment to Israel.
As she said to her grandkids – if there had been an Israel in the 30s and 40s, they would have grand-uncles today. And since the world at large doesn’t care about us, we must care for each other. To Mathilde, supporting Israel is the best way to do so. And throughout her career, she set a wonderful example to us on how to do so. I hope we can all follow it as well as she set it!
I’m honored to recognize Mathilde Albers for her leadership and commitment to the State of Israel. Thank you, Mathilde.
Steve Zatkin, Federation President:
There are two trips that permanently changed Jerry Yanowitz’s journey in life. One is when he came to the Bay Area in the 70s, right after college. Like many of his peers, he sought to change the world. And, in his own way, he did.
But even before that, as a teenager, Jerry went to Israel for the first time – a few weeks after the end of the 1967 war. The dust hadn’t even settled yet, but the trip had a profound effect on him. He cites the “exuberance and integrity” of the people there, as well as a dawning realization of Israel’s role for the Jewish people, as inspiring him to give back to the country.
Over the following decades, Jerry did just that – throughout his journey of service to the Jewish community, including a stint as president of Federation, he has always made the Jewish state a priority. And so, it is my honor to recognize Jerry Yanowitz for his leadership and commitment to the State of Israel. Thank you, Jerry.
Claudia Felson, Event Chair:
Thank you, everyone. Now, I’d like to introduce our headliner, comedian Benji Lovitt, to you.
Benji is an American-born Israeli currently living in Tel Aviv, where he does standup comedy. He’s delighted audiences around the world with his unique take on Israeli society, culture, and politics, as well as Jewish life and education – all from his perspective as an American olim.
As we laugh with him, I invite you to join us in supporting Israel – not just by supporting Federation’s work in Israel, but by also enjoying everything Israel has to offer: arts, culture, and innovation.
Thank you, and enjoy the show.