By: Fern Sidman
A palpable electricity filled the grand ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Times Square Hotel in Manhattan on Wednesday evening, January 5th, as hundreds of ebullient pro-Israel activists and supporters gathered for a triumphant celebration of the famed Beit Orot yeshiva and community on Har Hazeisim (the Mount of Olives) in the northern part of East Jerusalem.
The master of ceremonies at the 2010 American Friends of Beit Orot annual gala dinner was long time radio personality Nachum Segal (JM in the AM) who said, “In July of 2005 my son celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beit Orot and it was the most joyous of simchas.” Referring to the controversy that swirls around the U.S. demand that construction of new Jewish homes and yeshivos in East Jerusalem come to a screeching halt, Mr. Segal said, “I am one who believes that Jews should be able to live wherever they choose in the land that was bequeathed to them by G-d and which is their possession and inheritance. The holy city of Jerusalem takes on special significance for the Jewish people as it has been the Jewish capital for thousands of years and every inch of this precious city must maintain a Jewish presence.”
The Beit Orot hesder yeshiva in which students both dedicate themselves to their Torah study while serving in the Israel Defense Forces represents the epicenter of the Har Hazeisim developing neighborhood and is the first living Jewish presence in over 2000 years in historic East Jerusalem and the Kidron Valley. Filling an integral role in the reclamation and development of historic areas of the Jewish capital, the Beit Orot yeshiva ,also known as The Irving Moskowitz Yeshiva and Campus, stands on the strategically crucial northern ridge of the Mount of Olives and boasts a most spectacular view of the old city of Jerusalem. By virtue of its location and philosophy, Beit Orot is a shining paradigm of an institution that defends the scared traditions of the nation of Israel, the physical security of Eretz Yisroel and the integrity of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people.
Seth H. Schreiber, Chairman of the Board of Americans Friends of Beit Orot, addressed the gathering by saying, “Beit Orot means “house of lights” and it is most fitting and appropriate that we celebrate a vibrant and burgeoning yeshiva and community of dedicated pioneers on Har HaZeisim whose focus is on illuminating all of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisroel.” Taking issue with the political zeitgeist emanating from Washington as it pertains to exerting excessive pressure on Israel to institute a moratorium on the building of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem in the hopes of restarting the stalled Middle East peace talks, Mr. Schreiber intoned, “We will never allow the powers that be to stop us from building our homes in our own land. We just recently got or license to build and we are committed to continue to do build a strong and united Jerusalem as we secure our future for generations to come.”
Making several oblique references to the inherent hypocrisy of the world view of Israel as manifested in the oft repeated mantra of the Obama administration which declares that the Israeli building of settlements “are the obstacle to peace in the Middle East”, Mr. Schreiber said, “When a Jew builds a home in his own land, he is charged with inciting global unrest, while the real terrorists who refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and who proudly proclaim their desire to obliterate the Jewish people are viewed as downtrodden victims.”
“We must keep the Jewish lights burning as is represented by the existence of Beit Orot. Jerusalem defines us as a nation, and we, as a people will be defined through our efforts to teach Torah, to share our dreams and aspirations with our people and to staunchly defend our eternal capital until the end of time”, he said.
Dinner attendees were treated to an emotionally charged and poignant video presentation of the testimony of the founder of Rabbi Hanan Porat, the founder of Beit Orot, who spoke of losing his beloved platoon commander, Giora Ashkenazi to Arab forces in the 1967 war. “Giora was not religious but was as straight as a man can be”, Rabbi Porat said with tears in his eyes. “I always wondered who would say kaddish for him and today his grandchildren are religious Jews. His grandson comes to Beit Orot to recite kaddish for him and his wife supports our efforts to build in the very place that Giora gave his life for his people.”
A young Russian Jew was also featured in the video and spoke of first experiences as student in the Beit Orot yeshiva and the invaluable mentoring that he received from the spiritual leaders of the community including Rabbi Dani Isaac, the rosh yeshiva of Beit Orot and Rabbi Benny Elon.
“Today we are in the midst of battle for our future and it is the same battle that we fought in 1967. It is a physical and spiritual battle and one that depends on ensuring the eternal character of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital of Eretz Yisroel. It is a battle for the hearts, souls and intellects of our people, said Shlomo Zwickler, the executive director of Beit Orot in Israel.
Mr. Zwickler described the protracted battle as one of overcoming fear of world opinion. “When the Arabs build illegally and the local authorities attempt to remove these illegal squatters, the world cries foul. When Jews build legally and scrupulously adhere to building codes, the world cries foul. When local Arabs riot, the police response is to shut down our construction, as if we are the instigators of their rage, rather than putting down their riots”, he said.
“Beit Orot is our house of lights and we work to dispel the darkness surrounding us by illuminating the path of Jewish destiny”, said Mr. Zwickler, adding that “our commitment to Jerusalem, to the land of Israel and to the Jewish people will never end until our dreams of 2000 years are actualized.”
A formidable contingent of attendees at the dinner represented Americans For a Safe Israel (AFSI), a pro-Israel advocacy organization that has been in the forefront of support for the building of Jewish homes and communities throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Helen Freedman, executive director of AFSI, who could not be present at the dinner said in an interview, “AFSI is incredibly proud of our long and enduring association with Beit Orot. We were first introduced to Rabbi Benny Elon of Beit Orot by Chaim Silberstein, the current head of the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund and we consider them to be the closest of friends. Each year, AFSI conducts a very special spring mission to Israel and the trip is planned to coincide with the celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. It has become our custom to begin the kick off ceremonies at Beit Orot because the ties that bind AFSI and Beit Orot are strong and permanent. The festive atmosphere, the dancing, the food, and just being present on Har HaZeytim, celebrating a whole Jerusalem, all create an indescribable feeling of joy. We’ll be doing it again this year on May 31st, and we invite everyone to join us.”
The recipients of the Magen Yerushalayim Award at this year’s Beit Orot dinner were Ken and Nira Abramowitz. The Abramowitzs’ are tireless workers for many philanthropic causes that include hospitals, universities, educational institutions and museums throughout Israel and are also avid supporters and board members of the Friends of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). “We are in a state of war; an intellectual war and a war of presence”, said Mr. Abramowitz in his acceptance speech. “Israel must win this war hill by hill because if we don’t control these hills, then Iran will control the hills. There are severe military implications involved here and we must support the pioneering work of those at Beit Orot who are rebuilding our communities each and every day”, he said.
Ronnie and Bonnie Schwartz of Teaneck, New Jersey were this year’s recipients of the Shomer Yerushalayim Award for their dedicated work on behalf of Beit Orot. Mr. Schwartz was a board member and immediate past president of Congregation Beth Aaron, a community synagogue in Teaneck. “We are exceptionally proud to be part of the important work of rebuilding a Jewish presence in Jerusalem that is being done by the valiant people at Beit Orot. May they go from strength to strength and may Hashem continue to bless their efforts”, said Mr. Schwartz.