Israel’s dogged economic growth served to inspire local donors gathered for the Pacesetter, the campaign kickoff for the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.
In his keynote speech at the Nov. 16 event in Livingston, Israeli diplomat Ido Aharoni described Israel’s resilience in the face of both military threats and challenges to its very legitimacy.
Aharoni, Israel’s interim consul general in New York, said Israel’s enemies, knowing they could not defeat the country militarily, conducted a terror campaign intended to crush its economy. Instead, Israelis have resolutely gotten on with life. “It’s time for us to live independently, and we’re doing it,” he said.
As evidence of the country’s economic resilience, he pointed to the steadiness of the Israeli stock market in recent years, barely affected by the 2006 war on Hizbulla in Lebanon and the Gaza war during the winter of 2008-09.
“The performance of the Israeli economy has been mind-boggling,” he said.
Donors aimed to match that performance by equaling or exceeding last year’s pledges to the campaign. A total of $2.4 million was pledged, including endowment and designated gifts, $300,000 more than last year.
The event, held at the Livingston home of Jeremy and Abbi Halpern, drew around 60 donors, including four generations of the Halpern family. Jeremy and Abbi’s daughters, Brianna and Jasmin, helped introduce the speakers, proudly watched by their grandparents, Sam and Gladys.
Irwin Fisch, major gifts chair for the annual campaign, described those present as “the glue that holds together our community and enables us to do so much around the world.” A Holocaust survivor himself, he said, “History has proved again and again that unity is essential, not only for Jewish survival but for our Jewish community to thrive.”
Federation president Julie Lipsett Singer, who presided over the pledge process, was moved almost to tears. “The participants once again have shown us that no matter what the situation, this community pulls together, in tough times and good times,” she said. “They do what they need to do for the good of klal Yisrael, all of Israel.”
Pride of Lion
Aharoni, who previously served as consul for media and public affairs at the consulate until the summer of 2005, was called back to succeed Asaf Shariv in August.
In his remarks, Aharoni challenged a recent Time magazine article that said Israel is “no longer preoccupied” with peacemaking.
“People ask why Israelis don’t care about peace,” he said. “Israelis are disillusioned because the Palestinians have failed us time and again.” What Israelis do care about, he said, is building the economy, and getting on with life.
“It isn’t about the unfinished business of the Six Day War; it isn’t about land,” he said. “It’s what the 1948 war was about — our very right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.”
Iran’s nuclear ambitions threaten that existence, he said, but there was a danger in Israel making it a major policy issue. “It’s not just Israel’s problem,” he said. “We are at the forefront, but New York will eventually be within range. It’s every American’s business to show that this country will be affected too.”
A number of people, as they rose to announce their pledges, spoke of what the community has meant to them.
Elyse Deutsch of Scotch Plains said that for the first time this year she has become a Lion of Judah — a donor of at least $5,000 — to honor her mother who recently passed away and was herself an LOJ for 21 years. Deutsch had just returned from New Orleans, from her first national LOJ meeting.
“I am so proud, and I plan to continue to be a Lion,” she said, her voice choking with emotion, as those around her reached to shake her hand or put an arm around her shoulders.