Though not officially affiliated with the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, the Israel Day Concert is how thousands of parade-goers finish their day - and it's no secret why. With a star-studded musical program punctuated by compelling presentations from dynamic leaders of the U.S. Senate, the Israeli Knesset, and beyond, the concert combines top-notch entertainment with poignant political messages in a way that few events can. The warm, sunny weather didn't hurt, either.
Emceed by beloved New York radio personality Nachum Segal, the concert line-up itself was a veritable who's who of Jewish musical acts. Arranged by musical director Zvika Bornstein, artists included but weren't limited to Israeli headliner Gad Elbaz, Lipa Schmeltzer (whose style and panache have earned him nicknames like “the Lady Gaga of Chasidic music”), the Shloime Dachs Orchestra & Singers, Edon Pinchot (of America's Got Talent fame), and Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist Ari Lesser. Also of note was a performance Elron Zabatani (a resident of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City) sang, accompanied by Israeli pianist Shlomi Aharoni, an alumnus of the IDF's prestigious Rabbinical Band and Choir.
Prior to the concert, we caught up with Dr. Paul Brody who, along with his wife Drora, has served as the concert's chairperson for the better part of a decade. After offering words of praise for the concert's various guest speakers and performers, Dr. Brody explained the basic themes underlying the day's event. “The four main themes of the concert,” said Brody, “are  for Jerusalem … to never be divided again. That, of course fits in with  'Yisrael Hashleima,' that we're not prepared to give up one inch of land of Eretz Yisrael – Yehuda, Shomron [Judea and Samaria - often referred to in the media by the de-Judaized appellation of “West Bank” -ed.], and we'll even get [Gaza] back eventually.
“Also,  that we must stop Iran's nuclear weapons program now,” continued Brody, noting the upcoming presentation by former ambassador to the UN John Bolton, a well-known expert on this issue. “Another very important theme that we brought up several years ago, and has now resurfaced, is  that we are countering the BDS [anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions] Movement. … They are enemies of Israel, and yet three [pro-BDS] groups were allowed to march in this year's parade.”
Serving as the Israel Day Concert's organizer is Dr. Joseph Frager, an influential pro-Israel activist known for his political connections on the local, national, and global stages. Despite his own prominence, Dr. Frager seemed deeply impressed by this year's roster of guest speakers and performers. “I personally think that this is one of the all-time greatest line-ups of speakers—and musicians—we have ever had,” said Frager.
Those speakers included local luminaries such as Rabbi David Algaze of Havurat Yisrael in Queens; ZOA president Mort Klein; Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans For a Safe Israel. New York City Councilman Rory Lancman & State Assemblyman David Weprin presented an official proclamation regarding the Israel Day Concert. Also among the day's highlights were speeches by Israel Deputy Defense Minister MK Danny Danon, the aforementioned Ambassador Bolton, and U.S. Senator/GOP rising star Ted Cruz of Texas.
“Sen. Cruz has proven over and over again how incredibly friendly he is to the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” Frager noted. “He just got back from Israel two days ago. He has done, I think, the best possible advocacy for the State of Israel at this very critical juncture where Hamas and PLO have come together as a unified terror front. And Ted Cruz has not been afraid to speak out. He told the secretary of state to resign after associating Israel with apartheid. To me, that's tremendous leadership.”
One of the day's most highly anticipated speakers, Sen. Cruz was introduced by eminent jurist and political commentator Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who was one of Cruz's teachers at Harvard Law School. The liberal Dershowitz, though a staunch ally of Israel, has views diametrically opposed to Cruz's in virtually all other areas, and the irony clearly wasn't lost on him. Recalling a time when he offered a token donation to Cruz's congressional campaign (as was his custom whenever a former student would for public office), Dershowitz joked that he didn't know who would be damaged more by such a donation, Cruz or himself. Still, Prof. Dershowitz conveyed his respect for the senator's integrity despite their differences, emphasizing that “America's support for Israel must remain a non-partisan issue.”
During his presentation, Sen. Cruz also touched upon the theme of political unity for the greater good. “It is encouraging,” declared Cruz, “to see such bi-partisan unanimity standing up against the rabid anti-Americanism, the extreme values of the Iranian government.
“It is encouraging to see,” he continued to widespread applause, “the United States Congress speak with one voice and say 'We will not allow known terrorists to live in Manhattan with diplomatic immunity!' ”
The senator went on to recount his recent trip to Israel, meeting with business, political, and military leaders, touching on such diverse topics ranging from Israeli energy independence, to the Iranian nuclear threat, to the IDF's selfless humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians. In one particularly poignant anecdote, he recalls meeting a Syrian hospital patient who told him: “The army that I had been told was there to protect me is trying to kill me and my family. And the army that I had been told my entire life wanted to kill me, the Israeli army, are now the only ones working to save me and my family.
“What a powerful, incredible testament to the values that define the nation of Israel,” declared the senator. “And I hope that example will shine like a beacon in the region, changing the lives of those who were cared for out of goodwill and compassion.”
The Israel Day Concert is sponsored by the Concert-In-The-Park Committee, in association with Young Israel Chovevei Zion and the National Council of Young Israel, in memory of the concert's founder Carl Freyer z”l (and with the continued support of Mrs. Sylvia Freyer). For more information on the concert, please visit IsraelDayConcert.com.