The young woman stood at the podium and spoke to a quiet, tearful audience. "We just got married last October," said Karnit Goldwasser, "and I can't describe to you how my life was just turned upside down on that one day."
Goldwasser's husband is Ehud Goldwasser, one of the Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping by Hezbollah terrorists four weeks ago on Israel's northern border sparked the current conflict.
Accompanied by her mother and father-in-law, as well as and Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch, Goldwasser addressed some 500 local Iranian Jews at the Iranian American Jewish Federation's (IAJF) synagogue in West Hollywood. They had gathered to hear her story and raise funds to support Israel. Members of the Iranian Jewish community pledged a total of almost $4 million for Israeli organizations aiding the victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks.
As Goldwasser spoke, the screen behind her filled with a slide show of photos from her wedding and honeymoon.
"I really want to have children with him one day," Goldwasser said, "and not just dream about it. I was waiting for him to finish his time in the army before this happened, so we could finish college."
Goldwasser remained collected and upbeat, even as the crowd was in tears. "You know my husband is someone who wants peace," she said. "He's not just a soldier. He enjoys playing guitar and mountain biking. We want to live our lives together."
"You are our family today and I want to thank you for your support." Donations during the event totaled $1.8 million. But before the evening's end, Iranian Jewish businessman and philanthropist Youness Nazarian announced he would match dollar for dollar whatever amount of funds the IAJF had generated.
The emotional evening capped weeks of urgent fundraising on behalf of Israel by the 30,000 strong Iranian Jews living in Southern California and 15,000 Iranian Jews living in New York.
The giving has special meaning for Jews who not long ago enjoyed the umbrella of protection Israel offered them while living in Iran. Now, they feel a sense of duty to support Israel at a time when it is being threatened by Iran.
"We are the children of parents who were born and raised in Iran's ghettos during the Holocaust and the subsequent birth of the state of Israel," said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the IAJF, which is based in Los Angeles. "I think we have a keen understanding of the fact that when the chips fall, the only guarantee against another Holocaust is a strong state of Israel."
Kermanian said Iranian Jews in Southern California and New York have been quick to stand behind Israel as many frequently do business in Israel and also have family ties with the 200,000 Jews of Iranian decent living there.
Besides the donations pledged for Israel Monday night, younger Iranian Jews collaborating with the IAJF also raised roughly $170,000 during a dinner fundraiser held on July 30 at the IAJF synagogue in support of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation's fundraising efforts for Israel. The event brought together nearly 500 young Iranian Jews from more than a dozen different of their youth groups and reflected a significant show of unity -- a rarity in their community that for years has often been plagued with constant in-fighting over various issues.
"The powerful energy created by bringing all of these organizations and their members together in one place sends an inspiring message to our youth that have been spearheading this collaboration," said Rona Ram, a 23-year-old Iranian Jewish campaign fundraiser for The Federation, who helped organized the youth event.
Also last Monday night, nearly 100 volunteers from the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center were busy at the Nourmand & Associates realty offices in Brentwood and Beverly Hills as well as at a RE/MAX realty office in Sherman Oaks making telephone calls and asking local Iranian Jews to make donations for various hospitals in northern Israel.
"Our ultimate goal is to raise $500,000 for the Rambam Hospital's trauma center in Haifa," said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK said in an emotional plea for help to the center's members during services last Saturday in Tarzana.
"These are our brothers and sisters fighting for our right to exist in our own homeland and if we can prevent even one of them from suffering after being wounded then we've done our job."
Local Iranian Jewish backing for Israel has gone beyond writing checks, as many in the community also have offered spiritual and moral support for the Israel Defense Forces as well as the victims of Hezbollah's rocket attacks.
Rabbi David Shofet has conducted special prayers for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces since the war broke out, according to Dr. Morgan Hakimi, president of the Nessah Cultural Center. He said the center is planning two missions to Israel during August. "We want to show solidarity with the victims of terror in the hospitals and the soldiers fighting on the front lines," she said.
In addition to raising substantial funds for Israel, Nessah has also launched a campaign to have local Iranian Jews write various letters of encouragement that will be sent to Israelis living in northern Israel.
Sinai Temple in Westwood, which has a sizable number of their members of Iranian Jewish descent, has raised over $1 million for Israel.
"The Iranian community is a very important part of the engine that drives Sinai and makes it possible for Sinai to be, I think, a leading congregation in terms of its support for Israel," said Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe. "They have a deep, deep love of Israel and have always been generous with their money and time on behalf of Israel".
Members of the Iranian Jewish community living on Long Island, New York, have also kicked into high gear their fundraising activities, generating approximately $2.5 million last week alone for Israel, said Shahram Yagoubzadeh, president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York.
Yagoubzadeh said for the last four years his organization has donated $2 million each year to 40 different organizations in Israel that provide humanitarian aid to victims of terror as well as to widows and orphans of dead soldiers.
For all these donors, the hopeful, peaceful dreams of Karnit Goldwasser will continue to resonate.
"The night before he was kidnapped we spoke on the phone and I told him that I wanted to sit with him under the moon," she said, "so I'm waiting for the day when we can do that together."
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