HOLLYWOOD, Florida (JTA) — The Israeli American Council launched its annual conference at a Florida resort with a tribute to the policemen who stopped last month’s massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue and drew from it a vindication of Israel’s existence.
“I never thought that in my lifetime I would worry again about being a Jew,” Tzippy Holand, a Holocaust survivor, Israeli-American philanthropist and IAC Council Member in Florida said Thursday in presenting the award to two Pittsburgh police officers, Michael Smidga and Daniel Mead. “If we don’t do everything we can to support Israel, we are not going to have a home we are not going to have where to escape to.”
Alvin Berkun, the rabbi emeritus of The Tree Of Life/Ohr Kodesh congregation, one of three in the complex where a gunman murdered 11 worshippers on Oct. 27, delivered a blessing for those who place their lives on the line for others, in Pittsburgh and in Israel.
“Thank you, God, for making them agents of your succat shalom, your shelter of peace,” he said.
When Naftali Bennet, the Israeli minister for the Diaspora, invoked attacks on Israelis at a memorial immediately following the Pittsburgh massacre, and when Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, appeared to bigfoot local community leaders after the event, it was jarring for American Jewish leaders. The attacker was driven by his belief that Jews were behind the efforts of Central American refugees to seek asylum in the United States, a quest he saw as a lethal threat; Israel wasn’t a factor.
But for this crowd of about 3,000 Israeli Americans from across the country, the line between the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history and preserving the Jewish state was a natural one.
The packed ballroom at the Diplomat resort here on the Atlantic coast joined in singing “Gesher Tzar Meod,” “A Very Narrow Bridge,” the prayer by Nachman of Breslov, the 18th-century Hassidic rabbi, that has become an anthem for Israelis during crises. Among those swaying and singing in defiant triumph was Miriam Adelson, the Israeli American who with her husband, Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, and Republican kingmaker, is a major funder of the IAC.
The Pittsburgh tribute was preceded by a speech by Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons to battles and who has made it her mission to work with the bereaved. “Reform, Orthodox, secular, left and right,” Peretz said. “The land of Israel is the home of all the Jewish people.”
The opening also marked 71 years since the United Nations voted on Nov. 29 1947, to recognize Israel. A big feature of the opening night and of the conference itself are Israeli technological innovations.