March 2, 2008
Support for Sderot is strong at L.A. benefit concert
Nevertheless, the name of the city of Sderot (pronounced sde-ROTE), located near the border of Gaza, was on everyone's tongue at the sold-out Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills on Tuesday evening, Feb. 26.
Politicians, Hollywood stars, Israeli celebrities, Jewish community leaders, high school students and local dignitaries all were talking about this small, rocket-riddled town in Israel's western Negev region, whose plight has largely been ignored by the international media for the past seven years.
"Live For Sderot," a benefit concert organized by the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and the Israeli Leadership Club (ILC), aimed to raise awareness of one of Israel's most painful, ongoing issues, along with funds for children's educational programs.
"That night, Sderot stood alone in the spotlight," said Gilad Millo, Israeli Consul for Media and Public Affairs and one of the main architects behind the "Live For Sderot" gala. "For the first time, an Israeli humanitarian issue was brought to light without balancing it with Gaza. Until now, Sderot has been an illegitimate cause. We wanted to change that."
More than $300,000 has been raised so far to fund four educational projects in Sderot that will bring the latest technology to classrooms, provide assistance through an online network that will allow students forced to stay home to continue their learning, improve English-language studies and help bring test scores up to national standards.
Haim Saban and the Jewish Federation were two of the largest donors, it was announced at the concert. They each donated $100,000.
The high-profile event, which also marked the beginning of Israel's 60th Anniversary celebration in Los Angeles, did much to bring the suffering of Sderot residents to the forefront of many people's consciousness -- in Los Angeles, in the United States and even in Israel. From non-Jewish public school students on up to one of Israel's brightest stars, the word Ã«Sderot' penetrated hearts and infiltrated minds.
As part of the "Live For Sderot" public awareness campaign, the ILC funded a weeklong diplomacy trip for ten 15-year-olds from Sderot. The shell-shocked but resilient young ambassadors visited several high schools and universities in Los Angeles, including Kadima Hebrew Academy, Taft High School, Milken Community High School and USC, sharing terrifying as well as universal teen experiences from their daily lives and answering questions about their imperiled town.
"We hear Qassam rockets every morning and night," said Yarin Peretz, 15, to a large gathering at USC Hillel on Monday, Feb. 25. "If we don't get hurt, someone we know will get hurt. We have no solution to the security problem."
Moved by their words and the connection they felt to their peers from the other side of the world, 200 students from Milken attended the "Live For Sderot" concert and made their support known to everyone in the theater by howling enthusiastically from their seats in the balcony.
Milken student Joey Freeman spoke at the concert, expressing his solidarity with Sderot on behalf of his enthused classmates. Freeman took the opportunity to show off his Hebrew skills in front of his Hebrew teacher, also in attendance, one of many on stage that night pledging support for the long-ignored crisis.
Twenty-four speakers and musicians were part of the lengthy, but impressive, salute to Sderot and Israel's 60th Independence.
Among the highlights was Noa Tishby, an Israeli model, actress and producer -- she is the executive producer of HBO's "In Treatment" -- who stepped in at the last minute to replace Paula Abdul as the master of ceremonies. Abdul rushed to the Wilshire Theater after an "American Idol" taping and was all set to host, but backed out an hour before show time because she was feeling sick, according to the Israeli Consulate.
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple led the audience in the "Shehecheyanu," a prayer thanking God for bringing us this far, and reminded everyone that though we are celebrating 60 years of a Jewish homeland, we should not forget to commemorate 3,000 years of a unified existence.
Other sentiments of solidarity with Israel, and specifically Sderot, were expressed by Hollywood, as well as Holy Land, celebrities: actress Valerie Harper, who played Golda Meir in "Golda's Balcony"; Jon Voight, an Academy Award-winning actor who is a frequent contributor to Jewish causes and events such as the Chabad Telethon; Aki Avni, one of Israel's biggest stars; Jonathan Lipnicki, who played the charming kid in "Jerry McGuire"; and stage actor Mike Burstyn, a legend in Israeli theater who received much acclaim for his recent one-man performance in the U.S. as Meyer Lansky in "Lansky."
With his strong ties to the Jewish community of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa looked right at home schmoozing with attendees under the banner of Israeli flags in the theater's lobby. Maria Conchita Alonso introduced him as "a leader who has brought together the many communities of our city ï¿½- who has always shown his love and support for Israel and for Sderot," and the mayor certainly radiated warmth toward the crowd at "Live For Sderot."
Millo said that Mayor Villaraigosa was one presenter he did not have to brief about Sderot. The mayor has been closely connected to Sderot for two years, ever since he had a phone conversation with the mayor of the Israeli town that was repeatedly interrupted by "red color" alerts.
The politicians who received the most enthused reactions from the crowd were not actually present in the theater. Presidential candidates John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each were represented by recorded messages aired on a large screen onstage.
Clinton came first and received only tepid applause from the audience. "When I think of what it must be like to attempt to raise children, go about your normal lives, while under daily rocket attacks from terrorists in Gaza, I am overwhelmed by your courage and sacrifice," she said.