Yesterday afternoon the US Congress paused to reflect in honor of Raoul Wallenberg the famous hero who saved over 100,000 Jews during the waning days of World War 2. Senator Carl Levin who heads up the Senate Armed Services Committee along with Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator John Barrasso who were introduced by Ben Hoffman, Moshe Neiman and Sidney Greenberger respectively all spoke passionately about the importance of the legislation now making its way thru Congress to award Wallenberg with a Congressional Gold Medal. The award presentations appropriately featured the epic book "Witness to History" authored by Mrs. Ruth Lichtenstein, Founder and Editor-in-chief of Project Witness. The invocation was delivered by Rabbi Levi Shemtov of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, DC.
According to Friedlander Group CEO Ezra Friedlander who is spearheading this effort, the event resulted in many Senators co--sponsoring the legislation as a result of the advocacy connected with the presence of various leaders of national Jewish organizations who attended the event as well as the Board of Governors of the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission who are at the forefront of advocating to actualize that this award take place in 2012, the year of Wallenberg's centennial.
Besides the honorees of the Luncheon, which was chaired by Abe Biderman, included a host of business leaders ranging from Turkish Investment Banker and human rights leader Erol User to NYC Real Estate executives Peter Rebenwurzel and Leon Goldenberg to Jewelry Manufacturer William Nussen the Luncheon featured the participation members of the Lantos family. The late Congressman Tom Lantos was saved by Wallenberg and upon getting elected to Congress in 1980 led the effort to grant Wallenberg honorary US Citizenship and was most responsible for bringing Wallenberg's fate to the American people. Organizational partners and other organizations that attended the Luncheon included Josh Protas, Vice President and Washington Director Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Bini Maryles Associate Executive Director of the National Council of Young Israel, Eric Fusfield Director of Legislative Affairs of Bnai Brith International.
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett who was introduced by Dr. David Moskovits, President of the Endowment of Democracy in Eastern Europe-sponsors of the Masoret Avot school which boasts proud graduates in various Jewish communities around the world spoke eloquently and emotionally about how her family decided to raise large families compensate for the losses that the Lantos family endured during the Holocaust. Mrs. Annette Lantos who was personally saved by Raoul Wallenberg concluded the program by alluding to Wallenberg as "the Moses of old who disappeared in the midst of history leaving behind a legacy of self sacrifice and the hundred thousand people who he saved" which was also the subject of the speech by H.E. Gyorgy Szapary the Hungarian Ambassador to the United States.
Special recognition was also extended to Jesper Pedersen, Democratic Staff Director – House Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia from the Office of Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Jonathan Gilad from Senator Gillibrand’s office for their leadership efforts in securing congressional co-sponsors for the gold medal legislation. Mr. Friedlander also thanked Representative Nan Hayworth and her staff for their efforts in securing the support of Republican members of the House and its leadership.
The Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Celebration Commission is working in cooperation with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the humanitarian organization which provided to the War Refugee Board most of its financial support for the rescue work of Raoul Wallenberg. The JDC was represented by Josh Kram, the Washington Representative of the JDC.
The prominent announcement that 13th Avenue in Brooklyn-a main commercial thoroughfare will be co-named Wallenberg Way received applause; an initiative that was passed by the NYC Council led by its sponsors Council-members David Greenfield and Brad Lander. Corporate sponsors of the educational activities of the Wallenberg Commission were also recognized: Pat Tiffany of Flushing Bank which recently celebrated their newest branch opening on 13th Avenue and Health Plus that is one of the New York areas largest providers of government-sponsored health insurance health. Health Plus was represented by Kathryn Soman and Jonathan Zalisky.
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