A double portion of Israeli charm and appreciation was dished up to those attending the Choices event hosted by Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ on Oct. 23.
The gala, at the Hilton Parsippany, featured Izhak Wodage, an Israeli spending a year in New Jersey as one of six rishonim — or young emissaries — working with the federation, and Linor Abargil, a former Miss Israel who now advocates on behalf of rape victims.
Wodage told the crowd of around 400 women that this was the fourth time the federation had played a role in his life. The organization had helped him and his family make aliya from Ethiopia, helped them make their new home in the partner community of Rishon Letzion, and enabled him to come to New Jersey on the Diller teen learning and service program.
“And I’m only 18,” he said.
Wodage told the gathering. “Without you, Israel and so many other places around the world would not be the same.”
Abargil, who was crowned Miss World in 1998, described her own rape just six weeks before that beauty contest, and the film she made about her experience. (Brave Miss World was shown at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange on Oct. 25.)
“I tell women keeping quiet about rape doesn’t make it go away,” she said. “But if you can talk about it, that stone in your lungs — that tumor — comes out.”
Abargil, who wore an elegant yellow scarf wrapped around her head, mentioned that she has become “a little bit Orthodox,” her effort, she said, “to be a better human being with the people in my life.”
Liby Saigal of Livingston, originally from Israel, attended the gala with her mother and her daughter. She remembers the Abargil story. “She wasn’t this open in the beginning. It’s amazing to see her now, to see how far she has come,” she said.
The Choices event was open to those who give a minimum annual gift of $365 to the federation’s 2015 UJA Annual Campaign. Thanks to an anonymous donor who offered to match their gifts, the minimum for first-time contributors was $180. Those attending made campaign pledges totaling over $426,000.