Top Donors banquet — a glittering start

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TUESDAY, 26 FEBRUARY saw the Rotunda at The Bay Hotel transformed into a shimmering scene, a magical wonderland created with artistic flair by Vincent Shantall and his team. Marc and Fran Le Chat of CelebSA ensured that the evening ran well, their professionalism and attention to the finer details introducing that extra touch of class.

For the second year in a row Village & Life, the owners of The Bay Hotel, generously provided the venue for the Campaign and the valued assistance of their function team, all of which was very much appreciated.

Major sponsor, Investec, was represented by the chairman, Hugh Herman and other senior staff members. In his address, Hugh made mention of the important work done by the UJC for the many beneficiary organisations in Cape Town. He also reiterated what an honour it is for Investec to support the Campaign and to be involved with the UJC. He noted the importance of the UJC to the community and encouraged the audience to support the upcoming Campaign.

The United Herzlia Schools Vocal Ensemble, directed by Cantor Ivor Joffe, opened the evenings entertainment. The choirs beautiful pieces stirred the emotions of the guests particularly those whose children were singing on stage.

In her inimitable way Merle Rubin created a wonderful dinner. The presentation of the entire three course meal was exceptional, as has come to be expected.

IN HIS REPORT, UJC chairman Marco van Embden proudly presented the results of the 2007 Campaign. He stressed that the success was due to the ongoing support of the Top Donors. In 2007 R36.4 million was collected for all three legs of the Campaign a 13.4% increase year on year. This enabled the UJC to meet the promise made to all beneficiary organisations.

The objective of increasing the Top Donors is well on track to achieving the R400 million target, with the Platinum levels on an ever increasing scale, Marco said. He noted that 83% of all funds collected come from 7.5% of contributors up from 6% in 2006. That R6 million come from small pledges he attributed to the very hard work of the telephone canvassers Myra Swersky, Don Finberg Len Reitstein and Keith Benjamin, whose fine achievement he commended.

Acknowledging Steven and Franki Cohen for their commitment to YAD, Marco welcomed Warren Kaimowitz as the new chairman. He applauded YAD director Fiona Sacks for her commitment to this division, together with her wonderful group of young volunteers.

Many other divisions such as Friends of the UJC, the We Believe in You project and the Leadership course under the direction of Gerald Kleinman were also highlighted.

The Lion of Judah Keren Hayesod Womens Division project is well on track under the leadership of Nina Kovensky and Patricia Fine, who have done a great job bringing on board a number of new members, he said.

Marco stressed that 2008 was going to be an important year for all three legs of the Campaign and requested an overall increase of 12.5% from the Top Donor body. This would assist in the Campaigns achieving its goal of R8.7 for IUA, which was a small increase in dollar terms. One should take into account that this year Israel celebrates its 60th Anniversary, he reminded the audience.

The largest portion is again the UCF R 21.8 million, in order to meet the promise made by the allocation committee. The welfare target is R10.5 million, a big task but vital to achieve if the campaign is to grow on the success of 2007 and to meet future deficits of all welfare organisations.

Together, as a proud community, we can make a difference as there are many who depend on us, said Marco.

MIKE ABEL OF OGILVY and his professional team designed and produced an incredible presentation for the David Susman Community Foundation that impressed the audience tremendously.

Past UJC chairman Samuel Seeff spoke of this very important foundation, which has been established to insure the protection and future of the Jewish community of Cape Town. This fund was named to honour David Susman who was chairman of the UJC Board of Trustees for 21 years and has laid such a strong foundation for this initiative.

The initial target set for this stabilisation fund was R10 million but the bar has been raised and the long term goal of R50 million is now being seen as a realistic figure to secure the community in the years to come.

PHILIP KRAWITZ eloquently introduced the keynote speaker, Judy Feld Carr, the most unassuming rescuer.

Overwhelmed by his introduction, Judy mesmerised the audience, silencing the Rotunda with her incredible story.

For more than 25 years Judy Feld Carr, a Toronto Professor of Music and mother, masterminded a network which liberated over 3200 Jews trapped in Syria.

It was the mid-1970s news report of 12 Syrian Jews being blown up in a minefield while trying to escape from their country that brought Judy Feld Carrs attention to the terrible plight of Syrias Jewish population. Like other Jews who remained trapped in Arab lands following the formation of the State of Israel, Syrian Jews lived in daily peril, virtual prisoners of a totalitarian regime, their every move closely monitored by the Muhabarat (the Syrian Secret Police), with extortion, imprisonment and torture a constant reality.

Over the next 30 years, Mrs Judy (as she was known to the people she helped) publicly championed the cause of Syrian Jews while she secretly negotiated their escape dealing with smugglers, bribing officials, haggling over travel documents, arranging medical aid and funneling money to those in need, even to those in prison. By 1995 she had managed to engineer the rescue of some 3,200 Syrian Jews.

In her presentation of espionage and intrigue Judy made mention of two brothers, Eli and Selim Swed, who for one reason and one reason only that of visiting Israel to see their sister were arrested on their return to Syria, and thrown into prison. For 4 years they experienced the harshest and most blatantly cruel treatment. They were incarcerated in a hole 50 feet below ground for 18 months, without a change of clothes or water to wash or shave.

How could one human being endure so much torture and still survive? For the audience this was inexplicable until, to much surprise, Judy welcomed Elie Swed on stage. He spoke quietly in Hebrew, with his wife Golda translating. He spoke of the miracle of Mrs Judy and the honour it was for him to be in Cape Town to thank her personally and also to thank the community for their contribution to Israel money collected in the Diaspora that had assisted in resettling the Syrian Jews there.

Judy acknowledged the sincere and good work done by the UJC for Israel and the support that is needed there for the thousands of people living below the poverty line. She also applauded the wonderful way in which this community cares for the needs of all the local beneficiary organisations.

Both Judy and Elie were honoured with a standing ovation, after which Judy was swamped for personal signatures by those who had managed to purchase one of the hundred of her books on sale.

Such an event is made possible thanks to our sponsoring partners who year after year donate so generously, allowing us to present an evening of the highest calibre at no cost to the community.

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