Bet El should be more than a “settlement”; it is the heartland of Israel. This was the message heard at the 36th annual Bet El Institutions Dinner this past Sunday in Manhattan. Among pro-Israel fundraisers, this event attracts many of the leading activists from the Queens Jewish community, with dinner chair Eugen Gluck as the dinner’s main pillar of support. Funds raised at the dinner benefit the schools and security of this small but tight and densely-built community. The keynote speaker this year was Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who argued for extending full Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
“The miracles around us these days are absolutely obvious. We’ve just celebrated 70 years of the State of Israel. Some people felt discomfort with Israel as a Jewish state, so let’s remind them of some history. Israel was the Jewish state even before it was born. How come in the partition plan the words ‘Palestinian state’ never appeared?”
Edelstein was referring to the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which proposed partitioning British Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Palestinians were not yet regarded by the world, let alone by themselves, as a separate people, apart from other Arabs. “I’m proud of the Likud Party, which does so much for the land of Israel. We need to finally extend Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, to Maale Adumim, which seems natural, to Gush Etzion, where Jews lived before independence, and to Bet El, where Jacob dreamed. It is our duty to support their pioneering spirit and love of the land. We cannot treat them as second class citizens. Ribonut – Israeli sovereignty – will come to Judea and Samaria.”
Born in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, Edelstein developed an interest in Zionism at an early age. At 19, he applied to emigrate and was turned down by Soviet authorities. He belonged to a small cell of Hebrew learners who taught each other the forbidden Jewish language. In 1984, he was arrested and sentenced to hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. The resulting international outcry brought about his release and aliyah in 1987. Since then, Edelstein climbed the ranks of Israel’s political system to become the Minister of Absorption and, for the past five years, as Knesset Speaker. He resides in Gush Etzion with his wife Tatyana.
Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who is the state’s lone remaining Republican in Congress, also spoke at length. He was first voted into office 38 years ago, the longest for an elected official from that state. “Anti-Semitism is exploding worldwide and especially in Europe. A representative for Sweden said that there are places where a yarmulke can’t be worn.”
“I traveled to Moscow and Leningrad. I met with refuseniks. We argued for their release and eventually they all got out. They stood up to the gulag state with great fortitude. Unless there is sustained pressure on governments, there will only be lip service on combating anti-Semitism.”
The largest building projects in Bet El this year are dormitories for schools in the community and a new campus for the Gluck IDF Preparatory Academy, costing $16 million. With funds from supporters, including this year’s honorees Yair & Chana Leah Matan of Kew Gardens Hills, Thomas & Debbie Herman of Lawrence, and Daniel & Razie Benedict of Kew Gardens, Bet El will continue to flourish as an integral element of Jewish life in Israel. As it grows, it becomes less likely that this yishuv would be evacuated and more likely that it would fulfill Edelstein’s vision as an essential part of the State of Israel.
By Sergey Kadinsky