By Daniel Perez
Yom Yerushalayim–the holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty in 1967–came a day early for many New Yorkers, as the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim (also known as “Jerusalem Chai” and the Jerusalem Reclamation Project) celebrated the organization’s 34th anniversary on May 6 at the Elite Palace in Woodside, Queens.
“The fact is that American Jews do count, and our brethren in Israel, the Israeli public, need our support,” said Dr. Joseph Frager, chairman of the organization’s executive council. “They’re doing the hard work of living over there, but we can do a lot of hard work over here, doing what we do.”
Addressing the event on behalf of executive vice president Shani Hikind, who was in Israel observing shivah for her recently departed mother, Mrs. Miriam Kahn (z’l), was Shani’s husband, New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind. “There are a lot yeshivot, a lot of hospitals, and a lot of great causes, but there’s only one Jerusalem,” Hikind said. “And every Jew, in some way, should be supporting Jerusalem. If you would ask the people out there, ‘What have you done for Jerusalem?’ most people would not know what to say.”
In an interview, Hikind explained Ateret Cohanim’s role. “What Ateret Cohanim does is just amazing. If not for Ateret Cohanim, Jews would not be living in the Old City in the [Muslim, Christian, and Armenian] Quarters. What Ateret Cohanim does is to make sure that Jews are living in every part of Jerusalem. And you have these young families who move in, who are committed, dedicated, and not afraid . . . because they believe in the cause.”
Mark Langfan, a New York-based attorney and outspoken Israel activist known for his 3-D topographical map of Israel, which he uses in presentations to policymakers and other persons of influence to explain Israel’s strategic security concerns, was honored alongside his father, William. William Langfan is an American veteran of the Second World War and was one of the liberators of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. Speaking privately prior to the award ceremony, Mark Langfan proudly discussed his involvement as an American friend of Ateret Cohanim. “I have been backing Ateret Cohanim for 20-plus years. In fact, 20 years ago, I received an award from Ateret Cohanim for my map.” Ateret Cohanim is “at the very front line of the battle for the Jewish people,” declared Langfan, redeeming land in East Jerusalem on behalf of the Jewish people.
The award ceremonies were interspersed with video presentations featuring each of the guests of honor and showing how they give of their time and energy to support the cause of restoring the Jewish nation’s Holy City. Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier, spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and his wife Elana, are an example of this. A graduate of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Kermaier has served as a member of the national council of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and rabbi of the Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong. Presently, he chairs the Manhattan Eruv Committee and serves as a dayan on the RCA’s beth din for conversion.
Jack and Barbara Beyda have been actively involved in Jewish life in Florida, New York, and New Jersey for many years. Jack is known for his support of Israeli religious institutions, having served as president of Ohr Yaacov Yeshiva and Kollel. In a similar vein, Mrs. Beyda has taken on a substantial role in supporting Jewish charitable causes, such as Jerusalem’s Zichron Menachem Cancer Center. Presenting their award, Jerusalem Chai Executive Council Member Dr. Jonathan Halpert spoke glowingly of the Beydas. “Jack and Barbara Beyda have dedicated their lives to the building of the Jewish community throughout the United States and Israel,” he said, “and therefore it is only fitting that they receive this year’s Ateret Cohanim Bonei Yerushalayim Award.”
Also recognized as “Builders of Jerusalem” were Marcus and Sarah Lehmann. Among their many accomplishments, Marcus Lehmann, who works in real estate management by day, is very involved in Jewish outreach, and tutors weekly at Aish Hatorah in Manhattan. Sara Lehmann, who has a degree in English literature, puts her writing skills to good use, expressing her love of Eretz Yisrael through activism, her work often appearing in the Jewish Press. Together, the Lehmanns frequently host singles and ba’alei teshuvah in their home, as well as a variety of charity functions.
Following the award presentations, popular Newsmax radio show host Steve Malzberg shared his insights on the situation in Israel, as well as his thoughts on Ateret Cohanim. He emphasized the importance of Ateret Cohanim continuing “its fine work to establish Jerusalem as the one and only undivided capital of the State of Israel forever.” To underscore this point, Malzberg criticized the apparent anti-Israel bias among key U.S. leaders. In particular, he lambasted Secretary of State John Kerry for his support of the defunct Saudi “peace plan,” which entails an Israeli retreat to the pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Lt.-Col. Ralph Peters, whose political commentary has been featured in dozens of publications, including the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, offered his own insights on foreign policy issues as they pertain to Israel.
Following the presentations, Dr. Paul Brody, a member of the Jerusalem Chai executive board who, along with his wife Drora, helped chair the evening’s event, offered his own reflections on the night’s proceedings. Brody, who led those assembled in the singing of “Hatikva,” praised Shani Hikind as being “the moving spirit behind the whole American scene of Ateret Cohanim.”
“Nobody really mentioned it tonight, but Shani Hikind always likes to say that it really ought to be called the ‘Kotel Quarter,’ not the ‘Muslim Quarter,’” he added. “We’re really trying to reinhabit something that was ours before. So Ateret Cohanim is striving to put Jews back in places they used to be.”
To learn more about Ateret Cohanim and what you can do to support Jewish life in Jerusalem, visit JerusalemChai.org. v
Daniel Perez’s work has appeared on Arutz Sheva, Yeshiva World News, the Jewish Voice, and numerous other media outlets in print and online. He can be contacted at Daniel@PerezConsulting.org.