On Sunday December 13, 2015 over 1,200 people gathered for the Stand With Us annual gala, “Festival of Lights,” celebrating the non-profit Israel education organization’s fourteen years of growth and achievements. The event was held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, Los Angeles.
Stand With Us (SWU) was founded in 2001 by Roz and Jerry Rothstein and community leader Esther Renzer. It is an international organization that educates peoples of all ages and faiths about Israel. The organization now has multiple chapters throughout the U.S. and including Israel, Canada and the U.K.
The gala was underwritten by philanthropist Ellie and Bruce Lederman and Debbie and Naty Saidoff. Their continued generosity allows all funds raised to go directly into programming for 2016.
SWU honored two philanthropists who have dedicated their lives to supporting Israel: Leo David and David Wiener. David is a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America after World War II ended, and Leo moved to Israel from Germany where he joined the Israeli army prior to moving to New York.
Los Angeles Israel Consul General David Siegel opened the evening. He stated that these are perilous times for Israel, but SWU is central in the fight. He commended the Israel education organization for having the foresight to recognize the need 14 years ago, when it began reaching out to high school and college students, building a giant platform that empowers them to clarify Israel’s challenges and achievements. Siegel expressed that while “we work for Israel, we are confident that SWU is there.”
Comedian Elon Gold emceed the event, and once again, anti-Boycott rapper Ari Lesser closed the evening with a rousing performance. The national anthems were sung by Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot (American) and SWU Board member Alon Miller (Israeli.) The David Kates orchestra provided the music.
Bruce Lederman, co-host of “Festival of Lights” introduced keynote speaker Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations. Malcolm spoke of Hanukkah themes and discussed present day challenges, noting that the archaeological find of coins from Hasmonean (Maccabees) period is God’s way of reminding Jews of their past and the promise of the future. The triumph of the Maccabees is an example of the in gathering of exiles to Israel, similar to the ones from Iran, Syria,and Ethiopia, among others. He praised SWU for standing with Israel and remarked that those who have stood with Israel survived throughout history and those who didn’t, are forgotten.
Two United States Congressmen – a Republican and Democrat – were honored with the Stand With Us “Guardian of Israel” award – Ed Royce (R-39th district) and Juan Vargas (D-51st district) for their courage in voting against the Iran nuclear deal and continuing to approve aid to Israel.. Introduced by
Esther Renzer SWU President and guardian of Democratic values and of the American-Israel relationship, also acknowledged CA State Assemblyman Travis Allen who recently introduced a critical bill in the California state assembly which would prohibit the state from doing business with any entity that would boycott Israel. The bill will deal a blow to the Boycott movement.
Stand With Us has a high school internship program entering its fourth year and the Emerson Fellowship for college students in its ninth year. Two students were honored with the “Star of David” award for being role models in educating their peers about Israel and fighting anti-Israel rhetoric at their schools. Olivia Feldman, attends LA County High School for the Arts. She recalled that her passion for Israel began while on a trip there. When she returned, she realized that her peers were extremely critical of Israel even though they didn’t have much information. Unsure as to how to express her support, Olivia credits the Stand With Us high school Internship for giving her the tools and the courage to express that “loving Israel goes hand-in-hand with my values.”
Robert French, co-founder and co-chair of Stand With Us-New York delivered an impassioned speech stressing the importance of SWU’s work in clearing misconceptions and fighting the lies against Israel. Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO Stand With Us expressed that, “we do this work for our children and our grandchildren”. As a child of Holocaust survivors who lost many family members, she urged that we must take an active role, reminding the audience that Israeli’s defend Israel with their children and the very least we can do is to defend Israel with words and deeds.