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At 14th Festival of Lights, L.A.-based Stand With Us shows global organizational reach

More than 1,200 people gathered on the last night of Hanukkah for the StandWithUs' annual gala, "Festival of Lights," celebrating the non-profit Israel education organization's fourteen years of growth and achievements.   The event was held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, Los Angeles, on December 13, 2015.

StandWithUs (SWU) was founded in 2001 by Roz and Jerry Rothstein and community leader Esther Renzer as an international organization that educates peoples of all ages and faiths about Israel.  The organization now has multiple chapters throughout the U.S. and including Israel, Canada and the U.K.

SWU honored two philanthropists who have dedicated their lives to supporting Israel:  Leo David and David Wiener.  David is a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America after World War II ended, and Leo moved to Israel from Germany where he joined the Israeli army prior to moving to New York.  Both men warned of the danger Israel is facing as a result of the propaganda war promoted by the boycott movement,  primarily on campuses.  They commended SWU for educating people of all ages around the world, particularly to high school and college students.
(Left to Right): Honorees Leo David and David Wiener hold the Menorahs bestowed to them at 
"Festival of Lights" Credit: Jonah Light Photography

Similar to previous years, the gala was underwritten by Ellie and Bruce Lederman and Debbie and Naty Saidoff.  As a result, all the funds will go directly into programming for 2016.  

(left to right):  Roz Rothstein, CEO, StandWithUs; gala co-chairs Naty and Debbie Saidoff; honoree Leo David; honoree David Wiener; keynote speaker Malcolm Hoenlein; gala co-chairs Ellie and Bruce Lederman; Esther Renzer, President, SWU and Jerry Rothstein, COO, SWU and emcee Elon Gold

Bruce Lederman, co-host of "Festival of Lights" introduced keynote speaker Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations.  Malcolm wove Hanukkah themes into the present day challenges, noting that the archeological find of coins from Hasmonean (Maccabean) period is God's way of reminding Jews of their past and the promise of the future.  The triumph of the Maccabees is an example of the ingathering of exiles to Israel, similar to the ones from Iran, Syria,and Ethiopia, among others.  He praised SWU for standing with Israel and remarked that those who have stood with Israel survived throughout history and those who didn't, are forgotten.

Keynote speaker Malcolm Hoenlein. Credit: Jonah Light Photography

Two United States Congressmen - a Republican and Democrat - were honored with the StandWithUs "Guardian of Israel" award  - Ed Royce (R-39th district) and Juan Vargas (D-51st district) for their courage in voting against the Iran nuclear deal and continuing to approve aid to Israel.. Introduced by SWU President Esther Renzer as true guardians of Democratic values and of the American-Israel relationship, she also acknowledged CA State Assemblyman Travis Allen who recently introduced a critical bill in the California state assembly which would prohibit the state from doing business with any entity that would boycott Israel.  The bill will  deal a blow to the Boycott movement.

(Left to right): Roz Rothstein, Marie Royce; Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA); Congressman Juan Vargas (D-CA); Malcolm Hoenlein; Esther Renzer; Jerry Rothstein and emcee Elon Gold. Credit: Jonah Light Photography
StandWithUs has a high school internship program entering its fourth year and the Emerson Fellowship for college students in its ninth year.  Two students were honored with the "Star of David" award for being role models in educating their peers about Israel and fighting anti-Israel rhetoric at their schools.  Olivia Feldman, attends LA County High School for the Arts.  She recalled that her passion for Israel began while on a trip there.  When she returned, she realized that her peers were extremely critical of Israel even though they didn't have much information.   Unsure as to how to express her support, Olivia credits the StandWithUs high school Internship for giving her the tools and the courage to express that "loving Israel goes hand-in-hand with  my values."

Tomer Kornfeld, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the SWU New York Campus Liaison, asked the audience how they would feel if they walked onto their campus and met by a "die-in" where students are laying on the ground, pretending to be shot by  Israeli soldiers.  A graduate of the first Teen Internship program and an Emerson Fellow, Tomer credited SWU for giving him the  knowledge to properly respond to these kinds of actions, emphasizing that, "none of this would be possible without SWU."

(Left to right):  Tomer Kornfeld, Malcolm Hoenlein and Olivia Feldman 
Credit: Jonah Light Photography

Robert French, co-founder and co-chair of StandWithUs-New York delivered an impassioned speech stressing the importance of SWU's work in clearing misconceptions and fighting the lies against Israel.  
Robert French, co-founder and co-chair SWU-NY adresses the audience. 
Credit: Jonah Light Photography

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs expressed that, "we do this work for our children and our grandchildren."  As a child of Holocaust survivors who lost many family members, she urged that we must take an active role, reminding the audience that Israeli's defend Israel with their children and the very least we can do is to defend Israel with words and deeds.  

Los Angeles Israel Consul General David Siegel opened the evening.  He stated that these are perilous times for Israel, but SWU is central in the fight. He commended the Israel education organization for having the foresight to recognize the need 14 years ago, when it began reaching out to high school and college students, building a giant platform that empowers them to clarify Israel's challenges and achievements.  Siegel expressed that while "we work for Israel, we are confident that SWU is there."

(Left to Right) - Naty Saidoff, SWU-"Festival Of Lights" co-chair; honoree Leo David; Israel's Consul General to Los Angeles David Siegel at the Menorah lighting. Credit - Orly Halevy

Comedian Elon Gold emceed the event, and once again, anti-Boycott rapper Ari Lesser closed the evening with a rousing performance.  The national anthems were sung by Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot (American) and SWU Board member Alon Miller (Israeli.)  The David Kates Orchestra provided the music.
Anti-BDS rapper Ari Lesser. Credit: Jonah Light Photography

The event was followed by a Young Professionals after-party attended by hundreds and sponsored by Barak Raviv and Joel Mowbray.
After Party
SWU staff enjoy the Young Professionals After-Party.  Credit: Jonah Light Photography

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