200 participants of JLI’s “Land and the Spirit” mission to Israel enjoyed a gala banquet at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem at which they heard from distinguished guests and dignitaries introduced by emcee Rabbi Levi Klein, shliach in Memphis, Tenn.
Member of Knesset and Minister Yuli Edelstein, a former refusenik, spoke about his years in Russia and the powerful impact of Chabad that he saw firsthand, followed by the prominent Speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin, spoke of his warm association with Chabad in Israel and around the world and proudly identified himself as a Jerusalemite descended on one side from chasidim of the Alter Rebbe and on the other side, of the Vilna Gaon.
Representatives of several walks of life joined the banquet, including Avraham Cohen, brother of the great Israeli spy Eli Cohen; Professor Michael Vegoda, leading figure in Israel’s Ministry of Justice, as well as JLI’s partners in bringing JLI courses to Israel and the Former Soviet union Rabbi Yosef Levenhartz of Tzach and Rabbi Shlomie Peles of Ohr Avner.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of JLI and vice chairman of Merkos – Lubavitch World Headquarters, addressed the banquet and urged tour members to take all the inspiration of the tour back home with them and to continue to deepen their connection to Yiddishkeit and to Eretz Yisrael.
An emotional moment came when Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, addressed the audience and was awarded the Visionary of the Year award for her dedication and commitment to promoting and inspiring scientific excellence and leadership among future generations in Israel through the Ramon Foundation. Mrs. Ramon spoke about how her husband felt the responsibility to represent all Jews, and that this was part of his legacy she was devoted to carrying forward.
An moving encounter unfolded when Rabbi Avi Richler, shliach in Mullica Hill, N.J., spoke about his recent donation of a kidney, and was joined at the banquet by the organ recipient from Israel, Mr. Shai Ben Yishai.
Rabbi Boruch Cohen, director of the Land and Sprit Mission and of the National Jewish Retreat, offered closing remarks and thanked all those who had made the tour a resounding success, followed by JLI’s Executive Director Rabbi Efraim Mintz, who praised the 20 shluchim and shluchos for spearheading a most inspiring mission with far reaching results, evident in the myriad resolutions undertaken by participants upon their return home.