NEW YORK – Over 1,500 philanthropists gathered Tuesday night for United Hatzalah of Israel's fourth annual fundraising gala, held at Cipriani in downtown Manhattan.
By the end of the evening, attendees had pledged a total of $11 million to the world's largest fully volunteer emergency medical service organization.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was the gala's keynote speaker. Kraft, the founder of the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, began his address chanting trope from an excerpt from the upcoming weekend’s Torah portion, Beha’alotecha — which he recited from memory of his own bar mitzvah.
“I realized that if I want to try to assure that our future does not look like the 1940s, we all have to collectively do something,” Kraft said ahead of pledging to donate a million dollars to United Hatzalah. “The way we change history, the way we change the tone and tenor of society from sadness to joy, is by changing the human heart through education and awareness.”
“United Hatzalah is also facing a world of fracture, divisiveness, hate. But it helps to bring out the best in a complicated world one person, one relationship, at a time. When someone is in harm’s way, within 90 seconds there is a United Hatzalah ambulance. Jews save the lives of Arabs. Arabs save the lives of Jews. Secular people save the lives of the religious. Religious people save the lives of the secular. People see and respond to the spark of the divine, that is in each one of us. That saves lives. That changes hearts. And that adds to the decency of our beloved eretz yisrael.”
First responders honored at event
The event also honored two first responder couples. Dovi and Batya Widawsky, an Orthodox Jewish couple and Nizar and Karima Aweida, an Arab Muslim couple who said that despite their differences, because of Hatzalah they consider each other family.
Batya was recognized for arriving on the scene as six-year-old Yaakov (Yanki) Yisrael Paley and his eight-year-old brother Asher (Oshy) Menahem were murdered in February in a terrorist attack as they stood waiting for a bus in Jerusalem. Having gotten married just days earlier, Batya remained with the mother of the boys at the hospital instead of attending her own sheva brachot evening.
Social media influencer and activist Elizabeth Savetsky told The Jerusalem Post that "seeing so many beautiful Jews gathered together to support their lifesaving efforts was the exact jolt I needed in these hard times of growing antisemitism."
Savetsky said she was especially moved hearing from the Widawsky and Aweida families.
"A Jewish husband and wife and an Arab husband and wife who have the utmost respect for one another. It's a story we almost never hear in mainstream media because it doesn’t fit the divisive narrative," she told the Post.
Other notable attendees at the bash included law professor Alan Dershowitz and Israeli Knesset member Minister Rabbi Yoav Ben Zur.
President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer gave closing remarks before the venue switched over to an afterparty hosted by United Hatzalah Young Leadership, attended by 500 young professionals.
“I am so honored to have been able to celebrate the lifesaving work of our volunteers with our most ardent supporters in New York. I cannot put into words how thankful I am for the continued support of all of the people that donate to support our volunteers,” Beer said.
“I am also thankful to be a partner in Robert Kraft’s fight to combat antisemitism. It is so powerful to be a part of this movement. Everyone in the room was able to unite against hate and rally around a good cause to raise money to support the lifesaving work our volunteers do with Robert Kraft. I wish to thank each and every one of the attendees who enable us to continue to save lives in Israel, you are true partners in life-saving.”