American Jews must develop personal relationships with those in elected office for the sake of the security of the State of Israel, according to Howard Tzvi Friedman, the featured speaker at the Kollel Legacy Circle Event, held May 9 at the Embassy Suites Hotel downtown.
The annual event, which celebrates the Jewish educational organization founded in 1977, drew a crowd of more than 150 supporters to hear Friedman, former president and chairman of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and current chairman of the board of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Chuck and Judy Perlow and Zev and Lieba Rudolph hosted the event, with Judi and Emanual Kanal and Leah and Phillip Milch serving as co-chairs.
Chuck Perlow delivered opening remarks praising the Kollel’s place in Jewish Pittsburgh.
“For us to have real learning in our community means something,” Perlow said. “And there’s nobody doing it better than our Kollel.”
Friedman’s CV is extensive. In addition to his work with the Orthodox Union and AIPAC, he is the founding partner of the hedge fund Lanx Management LLC and was a co-founder, publisher and CEO of Watermark Press, Inc. Among other roles, he is the past chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and has served as president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, as well as president of JTA-The Global News Service of the Jewish People.
“This is someone who has taken every bit of the abilities given to him and taken them to the hilt,” said Rabbi Levi Langer, rosh Kollel and a former Yeshiva classmate of Friedman.
Friedman’s remarks opened with an emphasis on the Jewish people’s enduring faith in its own future.
“As we celebrate the fantastic achievements of the Kollel right here in Pittsburgh, let us reflect that Jewish freedom has a purpose: to accept the Torah, to keep it alive and to convey it to our children,” Friedman said. “In Egypt, in slave labor camps and throughout history, that has been the goal of our people and will continue to be the goal of our people for a long, long time.”
Friedman’s talk quickly turned to current events, with a focus on the imperative of maintaining a strong bond between the United States and Israel.
“We are united in our love for America and Israel and in the remarkable things that can be achieved by working together,” he said. “Two beacons of freedom, democracy and human rights in a world full of oppression, tyranny and persecution.”
The relationship between the two countries, he continued, “is central to keeping Israel safe and America strong.”
Friedman expressed confidence in President Donald Trump as a solid supporter of the Jewish state.
“As unpredictable as he is, I have confidence that his heart is in the right place when it comes to making sure there will always be a secure Israel,” Friedman said, noting that Trump has a “a trio of shomer Shabbos Jews working the U.S./Israel relationship.”
He described the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, as “a good guy, who I’m confident will take the relationship to new heights,” and recognized Jason Greenblatt — the Trump administration’s chief Middle East negotiator — and Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner as key pro-Israel players.
“Time will tell whether they will be able to make peace with the Palestinian government, who in my opinion doesn’t only not have the will to make a peace deal, but also doesn’t have the ability even if it wanted to.”
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with Trump earlier this month, although described in the press as “warm,” Friedman said, was also fraught with fabrication.
“I was personally disappointed that Abbas continued his lies, especially when he said the Palestinians teach their children peace,” Friedman said. “That is categorically not true. They are not teaching their children peace; just take a look at any one of their text books. You don’t even have to go to their classes or watch their TV. Just open their textbooks and you’ll see what they’re teaching them about the Israelis.”
Friedman praised Nikki Haley, who Trump appointed as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, as the administration’s “biggest star” when it comes to Israel. Haley, he said, is poised to reverse the decades-long practice of Israel-bashing at the U.N.
Friedman further expressed “disappointment” in President Barack Obama’s failure to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel last December.
“I was disappointed in my friend, President Obama,” he said. “As many of you know, he’s been to my house, and we’ve been longtime friends. But that one move at the end disappointed me. Nikki Haley really has been clear: there will be no more of that in the United Nations.”
To secure Israel’s future, Friedman said, the threat of Iran must be addressed in the wake of the nuclear deal which has put Iran on the path to obtaining nuclear weapons.
“The United States must pursue a policy over the course of the next decade that will shape a future dramatically different from the one Iran seeks,” he said. “A future that will roll back Iran’s regional aggression and support for terrorism. A future that will address the fallout of this nuclear deal so that Iran can never, ever, ever acquire a nuclear weapon.”
To reach that future, Friedman said, “America must work with Israel and other allies to increase the diplomatic pressure, increase the economic pressure and rebuild the international coalition to confront Iran.”
Turning to Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbors, Friedman said he has “reasons to be optimistic.”
Egypt and Jordan, he noted, “are no longer fighting with Israel; they are cooperating with Israel.”
Egypt and Israel have been working together to contain ISIS in the Sinai and to thwart weapons smuggling into the Gaza strip, Friedman explained. Furthermore, Jordan recently announced it would be the first country to begin importing Israel’s energy “which means a lot for the economy of Israel.”
Other countries in the Middle East also “share Israel’s concerns about an emboldened Iran and ISIS,” Friedman said, adding that those nations have begun to see the benefits of economic and scientific cooperation with Israel.
American Jews play a role in the security of Israel through the political process, according to Friedman.
“Our involvement in the political process remains the best way to advance the U.S./Israel alliance, and here’s how we do it: by building personal relationships with decision-makers from both parties in every state in every congressional office and with every candidate for federal office. We do it by educating on these critical issues and by urging them to take action when the interests of America and Israel are at stake.”
A bi-partisan approach, he continued, is “the only way to create stable sustainable policy from one election to the next.
“It’s up to us, not just a couple people — it’s up to all of us to make sure that the U.S./Israel relationship remains strong,” he explained. “We are fortunate to have President Trump who has made strong statements supporting Israel. Thankfully, we have the United States Congress — the Congress has been the bedrock of support for decades of the U.S./Israel relationship. But we cannot sit back and think that other people are going to make it strong.
“We must be the guardians of Israel,” he urged. “We must also be the guardians of the Torah of Israel. If not us, then who?”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.