May 27, 2013
Lubavitch UK Drinks to Revival
After 6 years of not holding a gala celebration, Lubavitch UK held its largest dinner yet. They had a good reason to do so.
By Simon Rocker, the Jewish Chronicle
It is not the norm to have shots of vodka or whisky after the first course of an Anglo-Jewish charity dinner. Nor to have the bensching led by a Brit Award nominee.
But there was a palpable mood of celebration at the Chabad Lubavitch UK dinner at London's Lancaster House on Monday.
Lubavitch last held such an event half-a-dozen years ago. But the financial travails that at one point had made its survival "touch and go", according to one supporter, now seem to be a thing of the past. The 530 guests represented its largest attendance at a dinner.
Event chair Lana Saffrin-Betesh saluted the "integral role" played in UK Jewry by Chabad over the past 50 years.
"We feel very fortunate, proud and grateful to have such support and dedication from a group of individuals who go out of their way to remind us they will always be there for us."
The name Chabad, she said, evoked "chesed", a theme running through the evening.
Guest of honor was Richard Bernstein, an American lawyer blind since birth, who fights for the rights of those with disabilities. He spoke of the strength Chabad had given him both professionally and in overcoming a serious accident which threatened to end his participation in marathons. "Because of them, miracles can happen," he said.
A personal story of help was also recounted by Gerald Ronson, who, with his wife Dame Gail, was presented with an award for their support of Lubavitch over four decades.
The lowest point of his life was awaiting sentence in a court-room cell in 1990 after being convicted in the Guinness trial. "Somehow, a rabbi managed to persuade the jailers to let him in and visit me," he said.
Although he "didn't really want to see a rabbi" at the time, he nevertheless put on tefilin and davened. "As I removed the tefilin, I felt a surge of strength through my body like a bolt of lightning."
He then walked into court with "head held high" to accept his sentence, even though he felt he was unjustly being made a "scapegoat." While many people looked you up when they needed you,"with Lubavitch, they are always there when you need them."
Under chief executive Rabbi Bentzi Sudak, Chabad Lubavitch UK has expanded to 36 centers around the country with 90 shlichim.
British singer-songwriter Alex Clare, whose single was nominated for a Brit Award this year, brought the event to a musical close, singing a few niggunim before jointly leading grace after meals.