Electricity filled the air on Sunday evening, December 2nd, as over 2,000 people gathered for the annual gala dinner supporting the town and yeshiva of Bet El, a vibrant and growing Jewish community nestled in the hills of the Shomron (Samaria) in Israel. Held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square and sponsored by the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center, this year's event marked their 30th soiree and featured a panoply of distinguished personalities in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities.
Highlighting the evening's proceedings was guest speaker, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, a former would-be GOP candidate for president in the recent 2012 elections. An outspoken supporter of Israel and the expansion of the Jewish settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, Bachmann told her audience to thunderous applause, "Israel is G-d's idea. All we're doing is following Him."
Calling the modern state of Israel a "miracle" and the fulfillment of the prophecies spoken of in the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, Ms. Bachmann praised the Jewish nation saying, "the Jewish people inspired the world with Jewish faith, Jewish values and Jewish tenacity, and it is the Jewish people who were privileged to be the keepers of the light of the Torah."
Recalling the time she spent in Israel living on a kibbutz in the Negev in the summer of 1974 as an 18-year old, fresh out of high school, Bachmann said, "I will never, ever forget that most memorable experience. As a naive girl from the mid-West, I didn't know what to expect. The conditions there were primitive; it was the summer and there were no ice cubes to be had and I picked weeds in the cotton fields while soldiers carrying machine guns went through the fields searching for land mines. I felt honored and deeply moved to be just a small part of helping to make the state of Israel blossom. It is in my heart and soul forever."
With respect to Pillar of Defense, Bachmann said, "Israel has the right and obligation to defend herself and history has proven that no concessions that Israel could ever make would be acceptable to their enemies."
Calling the recent United Nations vote granting the Palestinians non-member observer statehood "wildly inappropriate" and "shameful," Bachmann said that the UN had "rewarded Hamas with their first step toward statehood" and reminded her audience that "Israel's enemies are committed to the complete destruction of Israel and the Jewish people."
Bachmann also took issue with the Obama administration for their constant pressure on Israel to make suicidal concessions in the name of a false peace. "When we heard President Obama's infamous speech in Cairo, it was quite clear that his support for Israel was not certain at all", she said. "Since the inception of the modern state of Israel and since the days of Harry Truman, we always had Israel's back. Now, Israel needs US support more than ever."
Calling on the US and the international community to throw their total support behind Israel in the face of mounting concerns about its security, Ms. Bachmann said, "Such groups as Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran are the epitome of evil. Throughout the Middle East, benign autocratic regimes have been replaced with governments that call for the ascendancy of Sharia law. We must rise up to our moral obligation of calling these forces for what they are and that is evil. There is no other word for it. They are evil."
She also exhorted her audience to exercise their rights of self-expression. "We must vote with our feet and our wallets. We must call upon our government to stop funding the UN with money borrowed from China. The PLO should now lose all US aid because of their misguided UN initiative and Israel must be accorded the respect of any other sovereign nation."
"Our ongoing support of Israel is why we've been singularly blessed as a nation. As we know, G-d blesses the nations that bless Israel. To that end, President Obama must declare Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and he must immediately move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem," she added.
Beginning the evening with the recitation of Psalm 130, the list of this year's awardees were announced.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, was the recipient of the coveted Rabbinic Leadership Award for his outspoken support for Torat Yisrael, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Lerner has been in the forefront of the movement seeking the release of Jonathan Pollard from federal prison.
"We are now entering the 28th year of Jonathan Pollard's imprisonment", he said. "Just the other day Jonathan collapsed in prison and was hospitalized. His health is deteriorating rapidly. We ask that you keep Jonathan in your prayers. Keep speaking out for his freedom. Keep writing letters to your elected officials and never forget our brother, Jonathan", he added
Brian Decker, a senior vice-president of Bear, Stearns and Company was presented with the Shomer Bet El Award for his constant dedication to Israel's survival. Earlier this year, Decker made his first trip to Bet El, where he quickly bonded with the initiatives and energies of the community and with Bet El founder, Knesset Member "Ketzaleh".
Prominent New York attorney and real estate investor, Mark Langfan, was presented with the Shomer Yisroel award for his tenacious work as champion and defender of Israel's rights. For several decades, Langfan has dedicated himself to explaining Israel's security needs to government officials and audiences throughout the world. Using a three-dimensional topographical model and map of Israel that he designed himself, Langfan discusses the implications of the strategic height and depth of the mountains of Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights for the future of Israel's vital security interests, as well as the location of its water resources.
This year's Guests of Honor were Shelley and Ronnie Summers, active Bet El committee members for over a decade. The Summers have dedicated countless hours to working behind the scenes to ensure that each and every Bet El dinner is a resounding success, while serving in leadership roles at the Young Israel of Hillcrest for many years.
All the honorees are deeply devoted to the continued growth of the Bet El community.