CHAZAK: Stand Strong! Stand Proud! That was the theme of “An Evening of Song and Solidarity” held on June 10, at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Southern California’s Conejo Valley.
Featuring headliner Dudu Fisher in concert, with a special appearance by the recipient of Chabad’s “Voice of Courage Award,” Tony Orlando. The crowd of 1,800 jumped to their feet repeatedly with thunderous ovations of exuberance and approval throughout the night.
“If you come away from this evening feeling a little prouder of your identity, a little closer to your extended Jewish family and a little stronger about your connection to Israel – its history, its vitality and its destiny as the eternal homeland of the Jewish People – then we will have achieved our goal,” said Chabad’s Director of Development, Rabbi Yisroel Levine, at the opening of the program.
Thereafter, Jerusalem-born singer and Broadway star, Dudu Fisher, took to the stage, singing four strong opening numbers, including a Chassidic Niggun (melody) which he prefaced with a moving story about a woman in Riga, Latvia, who, back in 1932, was told that the baby she was carrying would be stillborn. Undeterred, she sent for a blessing from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was in Riga at time, which she received along with assurances that a healthy child would be born. Thus it was. That child would go on to be Dudu Fisher’s mother. The handwritten message from the Previous Rebbe’s secretary was then displayed on the auditorium’s large screen for all to see.
Following that, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, Executive Director of Chabad of the Conejo, appeared at the podium to establish the theme of the evening. “I think that we are all acutely aware that these are precarious times for the civilized world, in general, and for the Jewish People, in particular,” he said. “With the recent renewed threats of terrorism, a nuclear Iran and a spike in anti-Semitism, I think it is essential that we, as proud Jews and patriotic Americans, come together, to express our common resolve to stand for principle, for truth, for liberty, for human decency, and above all, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters who are living in our beloved homeland, Israel! But let me clear: We do not do so in a spirit of fear or dread. We are neither cowered nor intimidated by the enemies of peace and civility! We do so in a spirit of strength and courage, resilience and fortitude, dedication and determination!”
After pointing out how the programs of Chabad of the Conejo serve to saturate the the world with light even as others seek to engulf it in darkness, Rabbi Bryski went on to invoke the memory of the three Israeli teenagers, whose yahrtzeits (anniversary of passing) had been marked by World Jewry just one week earlier. In recalling the phenomenal spirit of unity that gripped the Jewish world in the aftermath of their kidnapping and throughout Israel’s subsequent launch of Operation Protective Edge, Rabbi Bryski delivered a ringing and rousing rebuttal to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Israel’s haters and detractors that has been so dominant in the world media of late.
“For all of the hypocritical condemnations and double-standards coming from so-called human rights commissions and proponents of BDS,” he said, “anyone who knows their history and can see a foot in front of them recognizes that Israel is but the ‘Canary in the coal mine,’ as civilization’s first line of defense… Israel has nothing to apologize for – to anybody – for what it must do to ensure its survival. On the contrary! It is Israel that deserves the world’s apologies!” The latter line evoked a roaring and rousing applause from 1,800 strong.
From there Rabbi Bryski hailed Israel’s loyal friends and staunch advocates who speak with honesty and courage in its defense – one such individual being among America’s most popular entertainers over the past five decades, Tony Orlando. Orlando – who has never shied away from speaking boldly about the greatness of America, the land of the free, nor from extoling the virtues of Israel and the righteousness of its cause as the sole democracy and haven of human rights in the Middle East – had taken the time to visit with the families of the kidnapped boys last summer to share in their grief and to show his support.
Bryski then explained Chabad’s decision to present Tony Orlando with the Voice of Courage Award as an expression of “Hakorat Hatov” (recognition of gratitude) for a man who well deserves the appellation of being a member of the “Chassidei Umot Ha-olom – the righteous among the nations.”
Joining in the presentation of the award was Tony’s good friend, world renowned philanthropist and champion of Israel, Bob Book, who along with another close mutual friend of Orlando’s, Jay Schottenstein, served as an Honorary Chairperson of the tribute. Mr. Book read aloud a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, congratulating Orlando on receiving the well-deserved award for his “unwavering support for the people and State of Israel.”
Though born to a Greek father and a Puerto Rican mother, in his acceptance remarks, Orlando recalled the high praise his father would always have for the Jewish People and how that perspective would be reinforced throughout his own life experiences. “With your emphasis on family, on education, on faith, morals and ethics, it should be clear to all why you are G-d’s chosen people,” he said. “Nothing is a more vile an insult to civilization than anti-Semitism and nothing should be of greater priority the non-Jewish world than our support for Israel and the Jewish People.”
At that point, he walked to center stage and launched into singing songs of pride and patriotism which electrified the crowd. He was then joined on stage by Dudu Fisher and the two performed “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” as a duet, with Orlando singing the original English lyrics and Fisher exchanging lines in the Hebrew version. They then sang a popular Hebrew song together which had everyone clapping wildly and many dancing at their seats.
Dudu Fisher then rounded out the concert with a journey of songs and stories that evoked both laughter and tears, but above all, Jewish pride and inspiration. After two encores, Tony Orlando joined Dudu for one final duet.
Other highlights of the evening included the presentation of the “Champions of the Spirit Award” to Martin Glade, a courageous and resilient Holocaust Survivor, and his wife, Sandi Glade – both of whom spoke at an outdoor pre-concert cocktail reception chaired by Chabad of the Conejo’s Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky and Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky.
Other Emissaries (Shluchim) of Chabad of the Conejo include Rabbi Eli Laber, Rabbi Leibel Kahanov, Rabbi Mendel Friedman, Rabbi Chaim Bryski and Rabbi Schneur Schneerson.
“That was definitely one of the most inspiring and entertaining Jewish concerts I’ve ever been to,” remarked Noam Lotan, while exiting the state-of-the-art concert-hall en route to his car. The sentiment was echoed by so many who called and wrote to Chabad in the days thereafter.