Consulate celebrates Israel's anniversary on Jerusalem Day
By Sergio Carmona
Hundreds of people from throughout South Florida felt safe, secure and comfortable celebrating Israel's 68th anniversary on June 5 at the site of a recent thwarted planned attack – Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
This event – hosted by the Consulate General of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico – drew local, state and federal community leaders as well as guests from the business, cultural, civic and religious realms. The presentations included performances by the Pentecostals of Cooper City and speeches from Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) and Lior Haiat, the new Israeli consul general to Florida and Puerto Rico.
In an interview, Haiat commented on celebrating his first Israeli Independence Day at his current local post this year, saying: "I couldn't ask for a better place to be hosting this and representing Israel."
"I think Florida is an amazing place to be an Israeli diplomat," he continued. "The friendship and support we get here is endless. It's heartwarming and I really don't think there's anywhere else in the world except Israel where I would prefer than here."
Haiat also commented on hosting this event at ATJC. During the recent Passover holiday, a Hollywood man named James Gonzalo Medina was arrested by federal agents on a charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against the congregation during services. Security was tight at the Jewish center for the celebration.
"The best thing to do in fighting terrorism is not to change our way of life, "Haiat said. "We need to continue to have security the best we can in order to prevent any incident and we'll continue to celebrate and we'll continue with our plans."
Wasserman Schultz told the crowd that this recent planned attack was "a reminder for all of us in the Jewish community that we have to constantly be vigilant."
In an interview, Wasserman Schultz said she was glad to be at the celebration and celebrate the Jewish state, stress that Jerusalem will always be Israel's eternal capital and to connect and reconnect with the Jewish community in her Congressional district.
"It's also really special to have this at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center given what they just went through," She continued.
López-Cantera, a Republican, said about the event's security measures in an interview: "It's better to have security and not need it, than need it and not have it."
During his speech, López-Cantera said that the issue of Israel should not and cannot be a partisan political one.
"There are so many forces trying to do harm to Israel. This is not a time for there to be division in the United States of America. This is a time for solidarity and one unified voice saying we stand with Israel," he remarked.
During the presentations, Revital Malca – the local deputy consul general of Israel – was honored for her five years at the consulate.
"This is exciting for me and also very sad because I'm leaving after five years," Malca, who ends her current post sometime this summer, said in an interview. "It's emotional for me. We had so many achievements here and I'm looking forward to maybe coming back as a visitor."
The master of ceremonies for the presentations was Pastor Carlos Ortiz, president for Hispanics Allied for Israel.
"I'm very honored to be here," Ortiz said in an interview. "I represent my [Christian] community but my job is to support and represent the Jewish people as well so I'm among friends."
Another Christian leader present at the event was Pastor Tom Pokorni, executive director of the Hollywood-based interfaith Olive Branches Coalition.
"I have so much respect for Jews and I'm so heartened by the way the Evangelical community supports Israel," Pokorni said.
Rabbi Leonid Feldman of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach said: "This event brings people together. We have political leaders here and it's exciting that we have Christian clergy."
The event also occurred on Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).
Cantor Emil Levy, president of Yachad-Together, said: "We're very happy that the consulate connected this day to Yom Yerushalayim."
"We're very proud of Israel's relationship with other types of citizens of Florida," Levy added.
Frank Gober, a member of the Jewish Federation of Broward County's Foundation Board of Trustees, said "It's great to have the event on Jerusalem Day. There's multiple celebrations so its wonderful."
Gober's wife Debbie, the annual campaign chair of Jewish Federation of Broward County, added: "I think it's also important that organizations come together and celebrate the unification of Jerusalem and Israel."