By Daniel Perez
The ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was packed wall-to-wall on December 8, as over 1,000 people came out in support of the small but vibrant Jewish community of Bet El, located in the Judea and Samaria region of Israel, more commonly referred to in the media as the West Bank.
Roughly 1,300 families strong, Bet El is home to the Israel Defense Forces Preparatory Academy, which grooms socioeconomically disadvantaged youth for success in their army service and beyond. Other Bet El institutions include an internationally renowned yeshiva, and Arutz Sheva (Channel 7), one of Israel’s leading news outlets, which covers current events from a Religious Zionist perspective.
Serving as the evening’s master of ceremonies was New York City Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Queens). The evening’s honorees included Elchanan and Aliza Romanoff, recipients of the Young Leadership Award; Joshua and Rachel Goldsmith, who received the Shomer Bet El Award; Sylvia Freyer, who was honored with the Aishet Chayil Award; and Dr. David and Barbara Bortniker, who received the Shomer Yisrael Award. All the honorees have made noteworthy contributions to Jewish and Zionist causes either tangentially, or in many cases, directly related to Bet El Institutions. In a particularly noteworthy example, the Goldsmiths have taken a proactive role in expanding Bet El’s social media presence, including the founding of Israel Empowered (IsraelEmpowered.org), a nonprofit that mobilizes young professionals from Israel and around the world in support of Bet El’s numerous institutions.
Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli Knesset and the country’s deputy minister of defense, and foreign affairs expert Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (U.S. Army, ret.), shared their foreign affairs expertise vis-à-vis the threats posed to Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups and the Iranian regime. MK Danon expressed his concern over U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion that he will have successfully brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a “conclusion” by sometime next year. He also drew attention to the recent lifting of sanctions against Iran, which, he said, allows the rogue state to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons with impunity. Despite all this, says Danon, “We are prepared.”
Danon referenced recent joint military exercises as an example of Israel’s readiness, and noted the various instruments of defense at the Jewish state’s disposal. The Israeli Air Force, the Iron Dome missile defense system, and “above all, we have Hakadosh Baruch Hu protecting us.” Danon also emphasized the importance of standing behind the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, and praised those gathered for their assistance. “Today, you are the real pioneers of Israel,” he said of Bet El’s residents and their supporters.
The integrity of Israel’s capital was also a popular topic of discussion. Watch mogul and Bet El benefactor Eugen Gluck expressed his hope that the Israeli government would learn the lessons of Gaza, and not compromise Israel’s security any further by, for instance, dividing Jerusalem. Lt. Col Ralph Peters expressed a similar sentiment, telling an anecdote where, when asked what his first act would be if he were ever elected president, he responded as saying that he would officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—something that every past president has failed to do.
Lt. Col. Peters chose to speak of Bet El not in terms of security or a “strategic high ground,” but rather as the “moral high ground.” He characterized it, and other Israeli settlements, as outposts of “our civilization.” Responding to the perception by those on the political Left that Peters and those sharing his views are bigoted, he stated, “I come before you as a person filled with prejudice! I am prejudiced in favor of civilization, I am prejudiced in favor of the rule of law, in favor of justice, in favor of the equitable treatment of women, in favor of science and progress and education, and therefore I am prejudiced in favor of Israel.”
While Peters, during his public address and in a private interview, referred to Israel’s enemies as “barbaric,” he made it clear that his bias wasn’t directed towards Arabs as a race. Rather, the culture that persists among the Arab states (and the Palestinians in particular), which glorifies mass murder and thwarts any prospects for political or economic progress, or peace between Israel and her neighbors, was the primary target of Peters’ invective.
One of the dinner’s associate chairpersons, Dr. Joseph Frager, described the Annual Bet El Gala as the “premiere event” for American supporters of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. He also expressed profound admiration for those who have dedicated themselves to the cause. “Eugen Gluck is just phenomenal,” said Frager in an interview, “and of course Sylvia Freyer, who helped start Arutz Sheva; and what Arutz Sheva has done to change the world for the better. It’s all emanating from Bet El. We all have to do our share by supporting Bet El . . . and I think American Jews need to do more. Now is not the time to hide; it’s the time to come out of the woodwork and help!” v