Speaking in Newark, Israeli cabinet member Yuli Edelstein accused Mahmoud Abbas of speaking “lies” in his speech to the United Nations and condemned the delegates who gave the Palestinian leader a standing ovation.
Edelstein was the keynote speaker Sept. 25 at the 32nd annual gala dinner of Bris Avrohom, the Hillside-headquartered Chabad Lubavitch organization that serves immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The event was held at the Robert Treat Hotel and was also the occasion of Bris Avrohom’s 26th group wedding — this time with five couples from around the state.
Edelstein, Israel’s minister of public affairs and the Diaspora, had traveled to New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He made the mistake, he said, of listening to Abbas address the General Assembly, in which the Fatah leader announced his bid to seek a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.
Edelstein said he was disgusted by Abbas’s “lies” and alarmed by the standing ovation some delegates gave the Palestinian leader.
A former refusenik, Edelstein immigrated to Israel and in 1995 was among the founding members when fellow ex-refusenik Natan Sharansky established the Yisrael ba’Aliya Party. Edelstein became a member of the Knesset that year, and has served in a number of cabinet posts since.
“Those with knowledge of Russia know that it is very easy to stand together to fight when you are facing bad things,” he told the Newark audience. In prison, the one time he lost control and tried to attack his guards was when one of them crushed his tefillin case.
“People have called that heroic, but that wasn’t heroic — that was basic,” he said.
Standing by Israel when it is facing grave danger is similarly easy, he continued.
It is much harder to get people to pull together when they are thriving. That is why, he said, he was so impressed with the couples involved in the wedding. Addressing them, he said that they all had civil marriages years ago and now, living in the United States in complete freedom, he appreciated “that you still have the time and money and motivation to come to get married the Jewish way. This is much more difficult.”
The annual mass weddings, which the organization calls a “Celebration of Religious Freedom,” were started by Milton and Shirley Gralla, together with Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky and his wife, Shterney, the executive and associate directors, respectively, of Bris Avrohom. Including this year’s group, more than 700 couples have taken advantage of the organization’s invitation to have a traditional huppa wedding.
The cost of the entire event — from the buffet before, to the ceremonies led by rabbis, and the dinner afterward, along with gifts for each couple — is underwritten by Bris Avrohom. For those brides who need assistance, a wedding gown is also provided.
Edelstein said he would like to see the feelings that motivate the brides and grooms also motivate Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to keep connected to their traditions and values and to one another, and to present a unified front.
“In Israel now the economy is stable and life is okay. From time to time there’s a crazy terrorist, but we know how to deal with it,” he said. “But we can’t wait for things to get real bad. We have to stand together now.”
Referring to the “newlywed” couples, Edelstein said, “I hope and pray that this wonderful experience is not just a lesson for a couple of scholars, but raises the level of awareness for the whole community.”