San Diego Jewish World
Donald H. Harrison
December 13, 2020
SAN DIEGO — It had serious purpose and poignant moments while raising money for the defense of Jewish and pro-Zionist students who are bullied by anti-Semites and Israel-haters in public schools and on university campuses. But the StandWithUs “Zoomathon,” Sunday evening, Dec. 13, also offered a refreshing mix of humor and music, perfect for celebrating a night of Chanukah while at home.
Emcee Elan Gold, who introduces himself as “the Jewish Jerry Seinfeld” did a riff on the coronavirus pandemic, which was responsible for this telethon being presented online rather than on stage “This was a virus that was supposed to last one month, and it lasted eight,” he deadpanned in a comparison of the Chanukah miracle of the cruse of oil that burned for eight days instead of one day.
“I grew up Jewish,” he continued. “We are used to restrictions.” Jews have far more restrictions than other people do. For example Jews aren’t supposed to mix linen and wool, he noted. And what so difficult about keeping six-feet apart to observe coronavirus-required social distancing? Jews have to wait six hours after eating meat “before you can eat a cookie” (a dairy one, that is).
The pandemic rules are confusing for Jews, he suggested. To have a minyan (prayer group) authorized to say certain prayers, you need a minimum of ten people. But to stay within the confines of socially-distanced meetings, you have to have a maximum of ten people.
Later in a segment filmed for the Zoomcast, Gold joined former late night TV host Jay Leno in Leno’s garage filled with classic automobiles. Said Leno, who is of Italian and Scottish heritage, “I’m a Gentile, but that word sounds so goyishe.” He also disclosed that when he was a boy, he was a “Shabbos goy,” turning lights on at the homes of Jewish neighbors. He said multi-generational Italian families, Jewish families, and Polish families in his Andover, Massachusetts, neighborhood were pretty much alike. “It was only when I came to California that I met a grandmother who spoke English.”
Another star on the Zoomathon was Kiss front man Gene Simmons, without his band’s signature face paint. Born Chaim Witz in Israel, Simmons spoke of his mother, a Holocaust survivor, and the lesson she taught him that it is imperative to stand up against hate. “Join Us! Stand With Us!” he implored the remote audience.
Likewise, Roz Rothstein, the co-founder and executive director of StandWithUs, told of losing 80 members of her family in the Holocaust. She said pointedly, “the Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers… It began with hateful words.”
Elan Carr, the U.S. Special Envoy Against Anti-Semitism, said anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism come from three forces, who sometimes align despite their internal differences: the Far Right, the Far Left, and Radical Islam. Their rhetoric has inspired murderous attacks on synagogues, and Jews on high school and university campuses to feel under siege, he said. Many Jewish students today feel that in order to be safe, they must distance themselves from their identity and never use the “Z word.”(Zionism) Alluding to the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour party, he said a former MP who had the courage to leave that party told him that Labour’s anti-Semitism “started on campuses.” Carr said the United States “is still a philo-Semitic country.” He said his boss, President Donald Trump has worked to protect Jewish students, in particular declaring the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel to be anti-Semitic.
In another segment, Rothstein was joined by two StandWithUs department heads — Yael Lerman, director of the Saidoff Legal Department and Carly Gamill, director of the Center for Combating AntiSemitism — in a discussion of the ways that their organization is able to fight anti-Semitism. Lerman said that just last week a high school teacher threatened to fail her Jewish and Zionist students, and upon learning of the situation, the Legal Department immediately initiated legal action. Gamill told of a case at Florida State University, where the student president posted anti-Semitic thoughts on line, prompting the Center for Combating Anti-Semitism to write to both the university president and Florida’s governor. The University President quickly condemned anti-Semitic speech and the university adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as a guideline for conduct.
Gamill said the Center for Combating Anti-Semitism is working hard to get other universities and their student legislatures to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Under Title VI of the Department of Education’s code, universities that discriminate against students can lose their federal funding as well as suffering damage to their reputations, Rothstein said, who made a point to also recognize the work of Jonathan Bell, a San Diego resident who serves as the associate director of the Saidoff Legal Department.
Lerman said more that more than 200 attorneys across the nation donate their legal expertise for free to StandWithUs. Recently for example, SWU attorneys drafted a legal brief for Fordham University in its law suit seeking to ban Students for Justice in Palestine from its campus on the grounds that it has actively promoted anti-Semitism. In another case in New York State, SWU filed a complaint against a physician who posted anti-Semitic statements on line, noting that physician works in a hospital where patients are predominantly Jewish.
Later in the two-hour broadcast, Joshua Washington and the Hebrew Project premiered a reggae-style song “Oh Jerusalem,” which may be viewed via this link.
The Zoomathon, which raised more than its $4 million goal for the continuance of StandWithUs’s work, concluded with a stirring song, “I’m Standing With You,” written by Diane Warren and performed by 9-year-old Eden Kontesz — remember that name — with beauty of voice and the composure of a seasoned performer. At the beginning of the Zoomathon, she also sang both the Hatikvah (Israel’s National Anthem] and the Chanukah Candle Blessing. May we hear much more from her in the future! The entire gala may be viewed via this link.
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