By Daniel Perez
Music fans of all ages and walks of life came together on Sunday, June 2, for a star-studded celebration of the special U.S.—Israel relationship. The 20th Annual Israel Day Concert was by far the biggest yet, with thousands coming to hear some of hottest musical acts in the Jewish world. Dubbed “the concert with a message” by its organizers, the gathering, which was free and open to the public, also featured presentations by prominent American and Israeli leaders, including media personality and former UN ambassador John Bolton and Israeli Deputy Defense Minister and Knesset Member Danny Danon.
The concert, which paid tribute to the memories of Carl Freyer–one of the event’s original founders–and Dr. Manfred Lehman, z’l, was organized by Dr. Joseph Frager, with Dr. Paul and Mrs. Drora Brody serving as chairpersons. Sponsoring the event was the Israel Concert-in-the-Park Committee in association with Young Israel Chovevei Zion, with catering by Mendy’s Kosher Delicatessen. Special thanks were also given by Brody and Frager to the National Council of Young Israel, and in particular the organization’s COO, Chaim Leibtag, for their assistance.
The program began just as the Annual Israel Day Parade (a separate event sponsored by New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council) was drawing to a close, with many of the parade’s participants ultimately finding their way to the concert. The concert showcased a veritable who’s who of Jewish entertainers. Lending their star power to the event were headliners Lipa Schmeltzer and Edon Pinchot. The many opening acts preceding them were celebrities in the own right. Brought together by musical director Zvika Bornstein, these included popular Israeli-chassidic folk trio Simply Tsfat; 2012 Jewish Star International music contest winners Dovid Moskovits of Queens and Choni Goldman from Johannesburg, South Africa; Dr. Meyer Abittan, a cardiologist who, fittingly, touched people’s hearts with his moving rendition of the theme from Exodus; Jerry Markovitz, publisher of the popular biweekly paper the Jewish Connection; the Shloime Dachs Orchestra & Singers; Chaim Kiss; Izzy Kieffer & Heshy R (who delighted with a musical homage to Reb Shlomo Carlebach); and rising music star Elron Zabatani. Zabatani, a resident of Jerusalem’s Old City and an alumnus of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva (who has also worked as a tour guide and medic), was to be accompanied by piano phenom Shlomi Aharoni. Unfortunately, Aharoni, who helped Zabatani prepare for his performance, was unable to attend due to a recent automobile accident.
Staying true to the concert’s theme, the entertainment was interspersed with impassioned speeches by top Israeli and pro-Israel leaders. Following Dr. Frager’s introductory remarks, the concert began in earnest with the performance of the “Hatikva” by Izzy Kiefer, and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” led by Shloime Dachs and his orchestra.
Many well-known media figures participated in the day’s festivities, including radio broadcasters Nachum Segal (who served as MC) and Zev Brenner. Making the Israel Day Concert all the more unique, community leaders and politicians rubbed elbows with musical celebrities and prominent rabbis, creating a happy, if unlikely, mix. Among that last group were such luminaries as Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, Director of the Iggud HaRabbanim, and Rabbi David Algaze of the International Committee for the Land of Israel. Tannenbaum discussed the miraculous victories of Israel in the face of repeated attempts at genocide, and how this can serve to bolster one’s faith. Rabbi Algaze offered a more politicized address, speaking of the futility of forcing Israel into a peace process with a group that is bent upon its annihilation. He emphasized both the responsibility of Jews worldwide to support Israel as well as Israel’s raison d’Ãªtre being to defend the entire Jewish people.
Among the more controversial figures in attendance, political commentator and anti-Islamist activist Pamela Geller made an appearance. Geller, known for her public opposition to the construction of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (an Islamic Center near the site of the 9/11 terror attacks), made headlines again recently when her appearance at the Great Neck Synagogue was canceled out of fear of reprisals. Geller gave an impassioned speech against the libels frequently perpetrated against Israel, particularly by Islamist groups. Referring to the censure of her and her colleagues for their anti-jihadist stance, she quipped: “Truth is the new hate speech.”
Underscoring the concert’s significance as regards the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, Dr. Paul Brody recited a prayer for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the U.S. for over a quarter century, though his crime (passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States) normally carries a prison sentence of just a few years (as opposed to treason, a capital offense).
Rounding out the distinguished lineup of dignitaries were Ambassador John Bolton and MK Danny Danon. Never one to pull his punches, Dr. Frager lauded Bolton as “the only person to have accomplished anything at the United Nations in the last 64 years.” He went on to offer his own, none-too-subtle prescription for addressing the Iranian nuclear threat: “All it takes is maybe four bunker-busters from the President of the United States. All he has to do is send four bunker-busters to Israel; we’re not asking for a lot. And the world would be a safer place tomorrow.”
Taking the stage, Ambassador Bolton offered his own insightful perspective on current geopolitical issues affecting Israel. He discussed a wide range of topics, including what he characterized as the failure of the current administration to respond decisively to the terrorist massacre in Benghazi, as well as the Iranian nuclear program, which he dubbed a “true existential threat” to the State of Israel. Tying these themes in to the Israel Day Concert, he said that contrary to the popular misconception that U.S. support for Israel is largely confined to the halls of political power, the majority of Americans are strongly pro-Israel. He concluded by emphasizing the need to bolster and publicize this support, especially if Israel should launch a preemptive strike on Iran. “I don’t know what decision Israel is going to make,” said Bolton. “It’s a very, very difficult decision, with Israel’s entire civilian population at risk. But I will say this: the government of Israel should know that if they decide to act, as they have acted twice before, the overwhelming majority of the American people will stand with Israel, whatever it takes.”
Following Ambassador Bolton, Israeli legislator and Deputy Minister of Defense Danny Danon was invited to speak. MK Danon spoke of the love for Israel manifested by such gatherings as the Israel Day Concert, thanking the attendees for their support. He also expressed his admiration and respect for those Israelis dwelling in Judea and Samaria, referring to them as “our brothers and sisters” and “pioneers.”
In the end, for all the poignant political commentary and compelling speeches, what the people really came out for was the music. Lipa Schmeltzer enthralled concertgoers with his catchy, wholesome songs, interspersed with words of inspiration and unity. Sharing the spotlight and stealing the show, however, was musical wunderkind Edon, who rose to fame as a semifinalist on the popular reality show America’s Got Talent. While Lipa entertained the audience with religious music in a more secular style, Edon showed himself to be at ease with both religious and secular music (as well as multiple instruments). Speaking backstage prior to his appearance, Edon expressed his pride at being able to perform in support of such a worthy cause. He spoke of his delight at seeing “so many Jews coming together to support Israel.”
That excitement certainly came through in Edon’s performance, and it proved contagious. Edon, who has been called the “Jewish Justin Bieber,” earned the esteem of the greater Jewish community by virtue of his noteworthy performance on America’s Got Talent, and perhaps just as much for having the courage to do so while wearing a yarmulke. Edon dazzled the crowd, playing classic Jewish standards like “Ani Ma’amim,” along with secular Top 40 hits like “Titanium.”
If the enthusiasm generated at the Israel Day Concert is any indicator of the future U.S.—Israel relations, the future looks bright indeed. v
Daniel Perez is a freelance writer, editor, and media consultant. His work has been published in numerous media outlets in print and online, including the Jewish Press, Yeshiva World News, and Israel’s Arutz Sheva. He can be reached at Daniel@PerezConsulting.org.