The Second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street boasted enough names to fuel half a dozen galas.
Dubbing the roster of guests “A motley collection of distinguished opposites,” Champions founder Rabbi Shmuley Boteach led off with N.J. Governor Chris Christie, Texas Governor Rick Perry (who shared a table with Marion and Elie Wiesel), Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, actor Sean Penn, “famous philanthropist and atheist Michael Steinhardt who created the single largest Jewish educational program in modern Jewish history,” Israel’s ambassador Ron Dermer and Alan Dershowitz.
An energized Boteach continued: “Our organization is dedicated to the proposition [of] spreading of Jewish values…. I will never judge a man by how he votes and will always overlook verbal gaffes because in Judaism the highest value of all is action….”
Penn, recipient of the Jewish Justice Award for his indefatigable effort to rescue Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jew who had been imprisoned in Bolivia (and who was present as Penn’s award presenter), said: “Why I helped Jacob…. My father’s family is Jewish [and I have] Italian Irish-Lithuanian roots. I can never run for political office because I have one face.” Penn, whose humanitarian rescue efforts in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti earned him the 2012 Peace Summit Award, came out strongly against anti-Semitism and said: “There has never been a suicide bomber who believed there could be a better tomorrow…. I will be a subject of cynics…. I accept this [but]… I encourage movement.”
Honoree and panelist Steinhardt lamented “the deterioration of Jews in America” not only because of intermarriage, etc.—but that “the organized community is late in recognizing the changes and diminution in the non-orthodox Diaspora where it is Jewish values not Judaic values that are the mark of continuity.”
At the mic, Christie told the more than 600 guests “I came for two reasons…one of which is because Shmuley asked me and if I said ‘no’, I’d never hear the end of it.” He then laced into “the vacuum left by America and [its] dysfunctional government…,” noting, “the values we celebrate tonight are not easy to stand up for, but it is our obligation to do so.”
Gov. Perry, recalling his visit to Yad Vashem, touted “”Birthright and the Adelsons…who help maintain the Jewish State as the light of freedom, democracy and human rights in a region where all too often there is darkness… Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish State.”
Somali-born women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who had been disinvited as a commencement speaker at Brandeis University) addressed honor killings focusing on the plight of the young couple in Afghanistan.