By Jacob Kornbluh
Photos: Shmuel Lenchevsky
Dozens of Congressmen, Senators and Jewish community leaders gathered on Wednesday to celebrate the Jewish American Heritage Month in the ornate LBJ Room of the US Capitol.
The annual event, organized by The Friedlander group, highlighted the work of 5 individuals who were chosen as honorees for their various contributions and achievements.
The honorees included: Joseph H. Kanter, a multifaceted businessman whose philanthropy, within the Jewish community and beyond, has won him recognition as a champion for change; Lesley Weiss, Chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad appointed by President Obama; Sanford A. Rubenstein of the law firm of Rubenstein & Rynecki, who for over forty years has dominated New York’s criminal courts, defending victims of personal injury and civil rights abuse.
In tribute to MedReview’s 40 years of service as an independent review organization, Joseph B. Stamm, CEO, was also honored. MedReview improves the world of healthcare through medical reviews, upholding the highest standards in the medical professional industry. Paying tribute to MedReview at the Jewish Heritage celebration was especially appropriate as the theme for Jewish American Heritage Month is: “American Jews and Tikkun Olam”–Healing the World.
The program also served as the Shimon Peres Congressional Gold Medal tribute luncheon celebrating the Senate’s passage of legislation that recognizes Israeli President Shimon Peres’ lifelong commitment to the US-Israel relationship and the United States Congress’ endorsement of a mutually beneficial US-Israel relationship.
Rabbi David Baron, Chair of the clergy cabinet of the Shimon Peres Congressional Gold Medal Commemoration Committee, was recognized for helping the efforts leading to the Senate’s passage of the gold medal legislation. Rabbi David Baron is the rabbi of the largest arts and entertainment-industry synagogue in the United States, Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, and he is a widely sought after speaker.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik served as emcee of the 2-hour long lunch, peppering his words of wisdom and introductions with Jewish humor.
Greg Rosenbaum, Co-Chair of the Jewish Heritage Month Foundation, kicked off the event with a brief background of Jewish American Heritage Month.
Luncheon Co-Chair Stanley Treitel, a community leader from Los Angeles, who has been in the forefront of activities that reinforces the notion that all citizens are required to remain vigilant in the pursuit of tolerance, praised Senator Roger Wicker for his efforts for Congressional support of Iron Dome, an Israeli Defense system. Senator Wicker expressed his pride of supporting the bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship in his 19 years in the House and Senate.
“The thing that impresses me about Israel is the fact that you can have an election over there, discuss the issues vigorously, and then when the election is decided Israeli pull together as patriots putting country first,” Sen. Wicker said.
Congressman Bruce Braley, who’s also a senatorial candidate, presented the award to Sanford Rubenstein for his ongoing efforts in advancing the cause for civil rights and human rights in America.
Senator Bill Nelson highlighted his relationship and the work of honoree Joseph Kanter and the Joseph H. Kanter Family Foundation. Kanter was then presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, acknowledged Senator Kelly Ayotte for introducing the Shimon Peres Congressional Gold Medal legislation, affirming the bipartisan support of Israel in the US Congress. Mr. Friedlander and the Shimon Peres Congressional Gold Medal Commemoration Committee presented Senator Ayotte with a charity box as a token of appreciation.
Senator Kelly said, “President Shimon Peres is the surviving leader and an important member of that founding generation of Israel. President Peres has honorably served Israel for over 70 years and has played a leading role in forging the strong unbreakable bond between the U.S. and Israel.”
Senator Ben Cardin presented an award to honoree to Lesley Weiss for preserving American Heritage in her capacity as Chair of the US Commission for the Preservation of American’s Heritage Abroad by protecting cultural properties across the globe.
Hassan Ali Bin Ali, a Qatari businessman and philanthropist, who was chosen to serve as the international chairman of the Shimon Peres Gold Medal Commemoration Committee, praised the willingness of the Jewish community to reach out and work with people of all races and religious beliefs.
In his keynote address, Senator John McCain stressed that there are very few leaders who’ve done so much to preserve freedom for future generations.
“President Peres has been a leader for strength, building Israel’s military and defense capabilities; He’s been a leader for prosperity and a leader for peace, making difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions in persuading the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and finding peace for all,” said Sen. McCain. “In the time I’ve known Shimon Peres I have been inspired by his statesmanship, leadership, courage and civility,” he added.
Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, who introduced corresponding legislation in the House, announced that they hope to bring it for a vote soon, since it has the required co-sponsorship.
The Jewish American Heritage Month, Rep. Kennedy said, is a “reminder of the contributions the Jewish community has made to this country in every aspect of our history, our culture and our traditions.” Adding, “The timing could not be more appropriate as we gather to celebrate the progress of a bill honoring a man whose influence has touched so many lives in Israel, the Middle East, in America and around the world.”
Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced by Robert Rechnitz, highlighted President Peres’ contributions “not only to a strong Israel but to a strong relationship between Israel and the United States.” Mr. Rechnitz is passionately pro-Israel and has devoted many years to facilitate pro-Israel support in Washington. He was also the driving force behind a tribute to the US Congress for its support of Iron Dome.
Senator Rand Paul said, “There are a few people on the international stage of such stature as elder statesman’ as President Peres. Sen. Paul also spoke about his most recent ‘Stand with Israel Act,’ expressing hope that the pro-Israel lobby groups will support the bill that would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority’s Hamas-backed government.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz pointed to the importance of acknowledging and creating Jewish American Heritage Month “so that we could make sure that after we finish the 350th year celebration of Jewish life in the Americas, we had an opportunity to continue to educate and let people know across the country” of Jewish contributions to society.
Honorees reflected on their life dedicating work and commitment to continue with their work. Honoree Joseph B. Stamm spoke about how he takes pride in all of the achievements of MedReview in helping improve the cost of healthcare without compromising the high ethical and professional standards we have set forward for ourselves. Lesley Weiss articulated our responsibility to preserve physical sights as testimony of once flourishing Jewish life in Europe. Sanford Rubenstein called upon the responsibility of “us Jews, we work for the civil rights of others.”
Rabbi David Baron drew parallel to President Johnson, after who the LBJ Room is named after, and Israeli President Shimon Peres for their leadership and ability to across isles.
Rep. Eliot Engel also addressed the tribute to American Jewry, also stating he told President Peres that “meeting with him is like meeting with history.”
In a moving ceremony, H.E. Olivier Serot Almeras, Consul General of France, presented Joseph H. Kanter as a knight of the French Foreign Legion, for Mr. Kanter’s heroism in WWII as an American soldier fighting for liberation of Europe.