One year prior to declaring its independence, a Portuguese Jew came to America, making landfall on the shores of New York. Haym Solomon found himself sympathizing with the colonists and decided to support the war efforts, becoming the biggest financer of the Continental army and pioneering the now over three-hundred year old tradition of Jews supporting the United States.
In an effort to honor the myriad contributions and achievements of Jewish Americans in the United States, President George W. Bush proclaimed the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006, at the urging of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, former Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida community leaders. Congresswoman Wasserman Shultz explained, “Jewish American Heritage Month [is] to increase tolerance and raise awareness about … the depth and breath of contributions of Jews through 350 years of Jewish life in America… through every walk of life is incredibly important.”
This annual tradition has continued annually and this year, Six individuals, each of whom are pillars of the Jewish community, were honored by members of congress at a celebration in the Capitol Building held on May 16th for their contributions to American society. With their collective participation in human rights, health services, business, technology, government, justice system, and law enforcement they are the embodiment of American ideals.
The special guests recognized at this year’s annual celebration were Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Rabbi Abe Friedman, Alyza Lewin, Rabbi Elie Abadie, Phil Friedman and Ari Scharf. Rabbi Simcha Scholar is the executive vice president of the world renowned Chai Lifeline, which provides support services to thousands of seriously ill children and their families. Rabbi Abe Friedman is a Chasidic community leader from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, who, for over fifteen years, has been a chaplain/community liaison to numerous law enforcement agencies in New York and New Jersey including the New York Police Department, the New Jersey State Police Department, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and several sheriff’s departments, as well as other state and federal agencies. Coming from a long line of distinguished rabbis, Rabbi Elie Abadie is a practicing physician, the founding rabbi of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue and director of the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University. Alyza Lewin, Esq, a lawyer who specializes in litigation and government relations, has spent years contributing to the American justice system. Working with her father, famed lawyer Nathan Lewin, Esq, Ms. Lewin has helped numerous individuals who have been denied a security clearance and government employees who are the subject of inquiries relating to their official duties. Originally from the Soviet Union, Phil Friedman understands the significance of freedom of religion, having been forced to learn Hebrew for his Bar Mitzvah in secret and in an effort to support Jewish education, his Alexander Friedman Scholarship fund awards scholarships to five Yeshiva University students annually. Friedman is the founder of Computer Generated Solutions, a multinational company providing software, consulting, systems integration, training and help desk support. Ari Scharf is the director of Project Mesorah which is committed to educating Jewish youth about their heritage. Mr. Scharf is also the President of of Franklin Exhibits which is now developing the Air Force One Museum which will tour the United States and educate young and old about the importance of democracy.
“It is important that we acknowledged Jewish community leaders in a venue as high profile as the U.S. Capitol, giving our representatives in congress the opportunity to recognize them during May, Jewish American Heritage Month,” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, the coordinator of the event.
The keynote address was delivered by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who is being touted as a possible running mate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Senator Rubio was introduced by Stanley Tate an icon of the South Florida Community. Acknowledging the contributions of the honorees were House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King of New York and International Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressmen Bob Turner and Louie Gohmert. Congressman John Barrasso was introduced by Sidney Greenberger – Chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis acted as Master of Ceremonies.
Remarks were also heard from Rabbi Levi Shemtov – Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch. Special messages were delivered by Nathan Lewin Esq who was introduced by Rabbi Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel.
The tribute ceremony was attended by over 100 leaders of the Jewish communities from New York, Pennsylvania, Washington Dc and Florida.
“I would like to extend my personal congratulations to all the honorees, who continue to forge links in the ongoing chain of Jewish American heritage,” said Congressman Peter King, who spoke in recognition of Rabbi Abe Friedman achievements. “I applaud Rabbi Friedman’s great efforts, building bridges for over a decade between law enforcement agencies and faith based communities, enabling law enforcement to better understand the different dynamics ethnicities of the religious community.”
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