The night was filled with contrasts.
The faces of the hostages, displayed on a screen at the entrance, were in stark juxtaposition to the warm, festive cocktail party and auction inside.
The focus was on resilience, determination, and resolve in this Evening of Unity for Israel, held at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Randolph on January 28.
“The evening was a response to the desire to make a meaningful impact in support of Israel, even from a distance,” Esther Aronow, CCFJL’s program coordinator, said. “It was organized in a month, a testament to the dedication of the volunteers and the generous support of sponsors like the Kushel family, the Schleifstein family, Todd Sawyer of Sawyer Lyons Buick GMC and Park Union Lumber Company.
Local dignitaries on the state, county, and township levels spoke, sharing words of support and solidarity with Israel and the Jewish community. They included state Senator Anthony Bucco (R-Dist. 25); Assemblywoman Aura K. Dunn (R-Dist. 25); Morris County Commissioner Deborah Smith; Morris County Sheriff James Gannon; Randolph Mayor Christine Carey; its deputy mayor, Joseph Hathaway; township councilmembers Marie Potter, Mark Forstenhausler, and Lou Nisivoccia, and businessman Jack Ciattarelli of Hillsborough, most recently the Republican candidate for New Jersey governor.
Rabbi Abraham Bekhor of the Chabad Center began his talk by saying, “It’s impressive to see this support of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The night’s message was unity and the unwavering resilience of the Jewish people; a banner proclaiming “Together We Will Win” made that message clear. “Even in the darkest moments, resilience is the force that unites us all,” Rabbi Bekhor said.
Before Rabbi Bekhor led a mishaberach for the hostages, praying for their health and their release from captivity, everyone was asked to look under their chairs, where they found a paper with the name of a hostage written on it. They were asked to keep that hostage’s name on their lips and in their heart as they recited the prayer.
Rabbi Bekhor told the story of First Sergeant Elkana Wiesel, a reservist who died in a Hamas-set booby trap. He had left a letter for his family, to be read if he died. “Spread love, light, and optimism,” the soldier wrote. “This is just one example of the nobility of our soldiers,” Rabbi Bekhor said.
Mr. Bucco spoke about the two weeks he and his wife spent in Israel. “Together, it is incumbent upon us to eradicate hate, especially starting in the home,” he said. “More unites us than divides us, and we must share that message with our children. I stand with Israel always and cherish the time I spent there and cannot wait to go back.”
Noam Buskila, an IDF paratrooper who serves on Israel’s northern border — and is a musician — was the evening’s honored guest. He had the crowd clapping, dancing, and singing to Hebrew songs. Mr. Bucco presented him with a proclamation on behalf of the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly in support and recognition of his bravery, commitment, and honor.
Mr. Buskila responding by saying that while his name was on the certificate, it was not just his. “I’m standing here on behalf of my paratrooper battalion on the northern border, all of the IDF, all the heroes,” he said. “Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.”
“The Jewish community has been one of the pillars of Randolph,” the township’s mayor, Ms. Carey, said. “We are here to show you our support.” She recognized Rabbi Bekhor, his wife, Chava Bekhor, and the Chabad Center For Jewish Life for their efforts in creating a warm, welcoming community where people of all backgrounds and affiliations feel at home.
Mr. Ciattarelli talked about a trip he took to Israel, where he met with business, military, and civic leaders. He talked about the war in Gaza, saying: “How long? The answer is — as long as it takes. And we stand with Israel on that mission.”
Mr. Gannon, the county sheriff, talked about his time on the FBI’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force. “This was an issue of evil on October 7,” he said. “We understand what happened in Israel can happen here. So it is all about unity. We will stand with you, and we will stand in front of you.”
Ms. Bekhor gave the last talk. “We learned ‘Never Again’ can happen again,” she said. “The Jewish people are usually the canary. Whatever happens to us will happen to the rest of the world next. We were punched in the core. But that punch activated us.”
As Mr. Buskila took the stage with his guitar, he said that he’d be lying if he were to say that he’s not afraid. “But we are fighting like a lion because there is no other place to go,” he said. But he focused on the positive. “Even though I did not take my boots off for the first two weeks of the war, we can feel your support. God is with us.”
Attendees Carl and Dana Van Dusen of Randolph Township praised the gathering. “Chabad of Randolph has done an excellent job in bringing community together for an inspirational event, and all proceeds are to support Israel,” they said. “We were honored to stand by the side of a soldier who has such love, belief, and commitment to serving not just in the Israeli army, but how each man and woman fighting bring the courage and strength to support our beliefs and faith. They bring the light in times of darkness. The event was uplifting and fun and gracefully put together. We are so proud to be a part of such a strong community.”
“The unity and solidarity displayed by the attendees left a lasting impression,” Esther Aranow said. “And many walked away feeling inspired, soulful, and united in their support for Israel.”
The funds raised during the evening will be directed toward Noam’s Battalion for the purchase of much-needed equipment. Learn more at israelfriends.us/noam-fundraiser.