Photo Credit: Tom Tracy Photo
Approximately 300 people were greeted by a tapestry of color – flowers, linens and martini’s - as they entered the Hi-Ridge County Club in Lantana, Florida for StandWithUs/Southeast’s (SWU/SE) third annual “Leaders of Tomorrow” gala held on March 9, 2019.
SWU/SE Executive Director Sara Gold Rafel greeted her guests and explained that the color represented the theme of the evening - showcasing Israel’s Diversity of cultures and religions and dispel the stolen narrative of Israel as a white, colonialist country.
The gala honored Palm Beach residents Ellyn Bank and Sig Zises for their leadership in fighting the divisive anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and combating antisemitism. The keynote speaker was former Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon.
The Morgentern's introduced the honorees.
SWU/SE proudly recognized the founders of SWU's newest initiative, the Teen Leadership Council (TLC). The three student leaders conceived this program while attending high school in south Florida to encourage more of their peers to become involved in Israel-related activities. The founders are: Julia Pratt (Tulane University) Jonah Rose (University of Pennsylvania) and Jack Steinberg (Harvard University).
Former Israeli Diplomat and StandWithUs Northeast executive director Shahar Azani emceed the event. Azani spoke of the recent spate of antisemitic incidents in universities, schools and even middle schools in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
With a slide of the float in a March parade in Belgium depicting caricatures of Jews reminiscent of 1930’s Nazism behind her, Ellyn Bank took the stage and talked about the seriousness of anti-Semitism worldwide. While anti-Semitism is not new, it is repeating and on the rise – again – and she passionately urged the audience to respond before its too late by helping StandWithUs grow. Sig Zises mentioned the alarming comments and attitudes of incoming Freshmen Congressmen and reminded all to contact their representatives and stem the potential rise of anti-Semitism in Congress.
Keynote speaker Danny Ayalon reiterated the seriousness of the growth of anti-Semitism, differentiating it as a distinct problem of the West. The anti-Israel side is united in its messages and he stated that Jews need to wake up, unite and take proactive in addition to reactive actions. He complimented StandWithUs on its inspirational vision, missions and rapid international success and impact.
Jacob Covas admitted that he was not an advocate for Israel until he visited it in high school. Suddenly, he realized he had to combat against anti-Israel and anti-Semitic actions. As a Freshman at FIU, Jacob became involved with Hillel and Shalom FIU who told him about SWU. He built a relationship with the Muslim Student Association and they held joint Jewish-Muslim events.
An event was held at FIU that offered free falafel and information to students. 2000 people enjoyed the native food and also learned about Israel's accomplishments. 2000 students enjoyed the native food and information about Israel's accomplishments. Students for Justice in Palestine members showed up and then, returned at the end of the event with a boy on crutches and a video camera. By now, the falafel had run out-- but SJP insisted they were denied it because the boy was disabled. Jacob, recognizing he was being set up, expertly handled it by apologizing and politely explaining the situation. Now, SJP has erected an Apartheid Wall at FIU and as the SWU Emerson Fellow working with SWU South Campus Coordinator Talia Lerner, Jacob feels prepared to properly respond to it.
Hope Lerman found a note in her bag addressed to her from a boy in her class that had pictures of solid liquid and gas. Next to the gas was a swastika. Alarmed, Hope turned to SWU and has now presented numerous educational programs at her school about Israel and the true nature of Nazism.
Julia Pratt received the award for helping found TLC and told the audience that it is one of the fastest growing SWU initiatives nationwide with more than 42 TLC programs, reaching almost 2,000 students in its initial year. There are seven TLC’s just in the southeast. Now, as an Emerson Fellow, Julia believes that TLC has given her a solid foundation to educate about Israel on campus.
SWU/SE showed its video of how Miami's Design and Architecture High School's Danielle Yablonka responded when a student drew Swastikas on her artwork. It spurred her to become a SWU High School Intern and she is now running educational programs including bringing Holocaust survivors to address the school assembly. Rayna Rose Exelbierd, SWU Southeast High School Director worked with both Hope and Danielle to create their programs.
SWU/SE’s “Leaders of Tomorrow” event opened with videos of both national anthems. The American one was by violinists Yitzhak Perlman at NY’s Shea Stadium (honoree Sig Zises is a Mets fan). “Hatikvah” was performed by violinists at the Western Wall with instruments that were recovered after the Holocaust.
Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs co-founder and CEO attended together with co-founder and COO Jerry Rothstein. She stated, “We are so proud of the rapid, impressive growth of StandWithUs right here in south Florida and look forward to continued impact on our local middle schools, high school, campuses and communities. Now is the time to define and confront anti-Semitism as it crosses red lines. We are proud of both our professionals led by Sara Gold Rafel and lay leaders like Ellyn and Sig."
Sara Gold Rafel continued that the “theme” of the night was also to highlight the problems of anti-Israel rhetoric and antisemitism and then present SWU’s highly-effective solutions. She was clear that the more students we train and educate, the more eyes and ears we have on the ground confronting situations. She stressed that we need hundreds and hundreds more on campuses and high schools and middle schools. Sara thanked the audience for its immense support for SWU/SE, which has allowed it to accomplish so much in the five years since its inception in 2013.
The first magician in the Israeli army Alan Chamo marveled the audience with his talent and the DJ was Israeli "Music by Rami."
StandWithUs, founded in 2001, is dedicated to educating people of all ages and faiths about Israel and combating anti-Semitism. Through college Fellowships, high school Internships and LINK, a middle school curricula, SWU is building a life-long connection to Israel in young people and equipping them with the tools to defend it.
Opened in Fall 2013, StandWithUs/SE quickly made its mark. Throughout the Southeast, it has helped thousands of students confront anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Semitism in their schools and presented meaningful programs to the community that educate about Israel's achievements and challenges.
For more information, contact Sara Gold Rafel at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office, 561-961-0752.