An Evening of Solidarity

Singer Idina Menzel, with microphone, performs in New York at AMIT’s
Evening of Solidarity with the Children of Israel, Nov. 20, 2023. (Abbie Sophia)

With Israel still reeling from Oct. 7, Jewish educational group steps up its support at star-studded evening in NY

Ilan Abecassis of Sderot is still reeling from the events of Oct. 7.
    That morning, he watched from the window of his home as terrorists in pickup trucks overran his city, gunning down Israelis in the streets and in their homes.
    In the ensuing days, he and almost all of Sderot’s other residents were evacuated. Abecassis, along with many others, was sent to Israel’s southern resort city of Eilat.
    A teacher and vice principal at the AMIT high school in Sderot, Abecassis barely took a breath before swinging into action. With the help of the AMIT organization, an educational network of nearly 100 schools, youth villages, surrogate family residences and other programs in some 30 Israeli cities, Abecassis moved quickly to lead an alternative school in Eilat for evacuated children.
    Following the trauma of Oct. 7, the focus has been largely on evacuees’ emotional, social and mental health.
    “Throughout all of this, AMIT has been covering our physical and emotional needs,” Abecassis said. “Principals, teachers, management teams all left their families to come and offer us their support.”
    Abecassis spoke at AMIT’s 2023 National Event in New York on Nov. 20 to recognize the donors who support AMIT’s network of religious Jewish educational institutions. Incorporating academic and technological studies, AMIT institutions have a special focus on children from underprivileged backgrounds and from Israel’s peripheral areas.

Joyce and Daniel Straus, left, hold aloft a Torah scroll after the dedication announcement of the Gabel & Straus Campus at Kfar Batya, Israel, flanked by AMIT President Shari Safra and AMIT’s executive vice president, Andy Goldsmith. (Abbie Sophia)

  “Ninety-nine percent of the aid we received came directly from AMIT,” Abecassis noted in his remarks. “A significant portion of this was thanks to your generous donations.”
    AMIT’s Evening of Solidarity with the Children of Israel took place at Manhattan’s Sony Hall and attracted about 250 of AMIT’s major donors and national leaders as well as notable figures such as Gilan Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
    Idina Menzel, the Tony Award-winning Jewish actress and singer famous for being the voice of Elsa in Disney’s “Frozen,” was one of several artists and musicians who performed at the event. She sang a rousing rendition of the song “Tree of Life,” written to commemorate the victims of the October 2018 Tree of Live synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Violinist Adda Kridler and pianist Cynthia Meng opened the evening with a musical tribute to AMIT’s founder, Batya Bessie Gottsfeld. Michael Harpaz, the Israeli singer, actor and dancer, emceed the evening.
    The high school in Sderot is far from the only AMIT institution directly affected by the tragedy of Oct. 7. All nine public schools in Sderot are under the aegis of AMIT. In the wake of Hamas’s attacks, about 4,300 students at those schools were evacuated—mostly to Eilat and the Dead Sea and with smaller numbers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In addition to the significant regular funds AMIT raises via its annual campaign, since the war began AMIT has generated over $1.5 million in additional funding just for the children of Sderot. It’s being used to fund trauma therapy and a variety of other services to help evacuees from the city.
    With over 40,000 students in various schools and institutions around Israel, AMIT is an integral part of Israeli society. Hostage Noa Argamani, the 25-year-old woman who was seen being taken by Hamas terrorists on a motorcycle while being kidnapped at the Nova rave party near Re’im that morning, is a graduate of the AMIT Wasserman High School in Beersheva.
    The Nov. 20 event, which had been scheduled before the war, turned into an opportunity for AMIT donors to express support for the people of Israel—and for each other—in this difficult time.
    “This event is to honor all those people who have already made investments in Israel,” AMIT President Shari Safra said. “Although the tone is a little more subdued, the substance of the program is still just as relevant.”

LARRY LUXNER is a contributing writer to JTA and Jlife Magazine.



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