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Oct. 7 Survivor Testimony, Muslim Zionism And Some Laughs

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“During this very difficult time for the Jewish people, the annual StandWithUs gathering became more important than ever,” said Roz Rothstein, head of the nonprofit.

Embeded Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HGc2fNj1Ng

David Swindle

(JNS)

Elon Gold, a Jewish comedian, looked out on the 1,000 attendees at a StandWithUs gala on Dec. 10 in Los Angeles. “Look at this beautiful crowd—12,500 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry,” he said, opening his act.

“That’s right. We’re gonna laugh now,” he said. “We’re gonna take a break from the hard and the hell.”

Prior to Gold’s performance towards the end of the nonprofit’s “Festival of Lights” gala, a much more somber tone prevailed. Attendees heard earlier from survivors of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack and from a hero who put himself at risk that day to save lives.

By the time Gold had control of the microphone, many attendees had filed out of the room to get a headstart on the dessert buffet, which included a chocolate fountain. “I hope dessert’s funnier than this stuff,” the comedian quipped.

In addition to the comic relief, the gala included a silent auction; holiday food, including timely latke stations; musical performances; and an electric menorah “lighting.” (The hotel wouldn’t permit candles.)

“During this very difficult time for the Jewish people, the annual StandWithUs gathering became more important than ever,” Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of SWU, told JNS. “Over 1,000 people were there to support one another, to stand up for Israel and to stand firmly against antisemitism.”

‘I was going to die’

Swell Ariel Or, an Israeli actress who stars in Netflix’s “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem,” introduced Karen Haddad and Ela Shani, both of whom survived the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

Haddad told the audience that she arrived at the Supernova Music Festival at 1 a.m. on Oct. 7 and danced with friends from 3-6:15 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, she “saw the death and destruction by Hamas,” Haddad said. She ran, believing “I was going to die,” Haddad said. While driving away, she encountered a woman covered in blood in the road, who “screamed at us to turn around.”

“That’s what we did. We took a different turn,” she said.

Shani survived the Hamas terror attack on Kibbutz Be’eri, where she told the crowd that her father was “brutally murdered.” Her cousin, who was kidnapped, thankfully was released the prior week, she said, to applause.

“We’ve seen many horrific stabbings. … Israelis were burned. Their body parts were cut off. They’re covered with blood,” Shani said. “Some of them are my friends.”

On social media, Shani has been called a liar, she said. “People said sick things, like ‘She should have died with her father,’ ‘She should have had it worse,’ ‘Her dad must be dancing in hell,’ ‘Can she stop lying already,’” she said.

Retired Maj. Gen. Yair Golan recounted his effort to save as many people as he could on Oct. 7. “I put on my old uniform, took a rifle and drove my car straight away to the south,” he said in a video introduction. “Just stay at home and do nothing? This is not an option.”

Golan, who with the two survivors received “Guardian of Israel” awards, told attendees that Israel won’t take revenge but intends to build hope and security.

Sapir Tzemah
The Israeli musician Sapir Tzemah performs at the StandWithUs annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 10, 2023. Credit: Michal Mivzari/Jonah Light Photography.

On campus

Gabi Schiller, a recent graduate of Hunter College—part of the City University of New York—who is StandWithUs’s New England high school regional manager, and Nate Neustadt, a high schooler who spoke at the Nov. 14 “March for Israel” in Washington D.C., also received awards.

Yael Lerman, who directs the nonprofit’s legal department, told attendees that StandWithUs is supporting students through its legal activism.” We don’t need new laws,” she said. “We need the existing laws to be applied equally to Jews.”

Gold’s comedic spiel also touched on education. “I am the new president of UPenn,” he said. “Apparently to get the job you just have to be able to use the word ‘yes’ in a sentence.”

Peacemakers

The gala’s closing act was a panel discussion, which Rothstein moderated, with the Saudi Zionist influencer Loay Alshareef and Enes Kanter Freedom, the professional basketball star-turned-human rights activist. (The latter announced his plans to create an Abrahamic faith basketball school.)

The two Muslim men discussed their experiences growing up in antisemitic cultures, and both said that warm experiences with Jews exposed the falsehoods that had misinformed their beliefs.

The antisemitism of his culture melted away “when I learned more about Judaism,” and saw “how deeply connected the Jewish faith [is] with the Muslim faith, especially when it comes to the prophets and the history of the prophets and their stories,” Alshareef told JNS. “We have the same stories.”

Alshareef cited the biblical prophets Elijah, David and Solomon as examples of shared Jewish and Muslim figures and he said he learned biblical Hebrew to read the Torah.

“We need to find peacemakers,” Freedom told JNS. “There are not many peacemakers who want to stand up for truth.”

“Whatever we do in this life, we have to make this world a better place—tikkun olam,” Alshareef said, using the Hebrew for “repairing the world.” He also said he hopes “there will be a major, big breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Israel.”

Freedom said that Hamas’s terror attacks on Oct. 7 do not represent “not true Islam.” The Muslim prophet says that “if you kill a person, it’s equal to killing humanity, and if you save a person, it’s equal to saving humanity,” Freedom said. The Muslim prophet also expressly forbade killing babies and women during war.

The former Boston Celtics player told JNS he can spend two-thirds of his time on the road, speaking often to student groups.

“When you see you put a smile on the kid’s face and you put a question in their head, that’s priceless,” he said.

Image: StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein (center) presents awards at the nonprofit’s annual gala in Los Angeles to two survivors of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel, as well as a hero who saved lives that day, Dec. 10, 2023. Credit: Michal Mivzari/Jonah Light Photography.

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