“He sounds like a Jew,” someone muttered at a nearby table as Ted Cruz gave his address.
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Last night, presidential hopefuls Texas Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addressed over a thousand Jewish New Yorkers at the third annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, organized by the self-christened “America’s Rabbi,” Shmuley Boteach.
This is the who’s-who for politically conservative Jews in New York, drawing most of its guests out of sheer curiosity, hoping to hobnob with their elite (What is, after all, an event for ‘Jewish values’?). Boteach, the bearded little rabbi who hops on and off the stage and who somehow makes sure to be everything all at once - emcee, keynote speaker and donor too, was desperate to hold the microphone: “Video crew, please zoom in on this perfect specimen of masculinity,” a joke which somehow fell flat. In his introduction, Boteach warned that the Jews have had seventy years of respite and that “the appetite for Jewish blood is back,” and spoke about the Jews' need for self-defense.
Despite the long cast of characters present (Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, magnate Sheldon Adelson and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt) - it was Cruz who stole the show, by far.
Adelson remained very reserved throughout the evening, sitting at the head table with Elie Wiesel, Gingrich, Cruz, Christie, and Ambassador Ron Dermer (who had been “unable” to attend Obama’s synagogue speech last Friday). Adelson walked on stage with a cane and introduced Senator Menendez - who is under indictment for taking bribes and other charges - as a “true hero” to whom “we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude” for his work against the Iran nuclear deal.
Menendez said he was “deeply disturbed by the unlawful agreement” with Iran. Hope, he said, “is not a national security solution.”
Gingrich turned to the Jewish audience and lamented that "never again" has become a mere "slogan" and no longer a policy, and spoke about growing anti-Semitism even in America and its universities, reminding guests that “Many of you give money to faculties that are anti-Semitic.”
Christie gave a rather uninspiring address dotted with words like “hope,” “love,” and “understanding.” He criticized Obama, saying that he made it seem that “America was the reason for violence in the world.” “Strength must come first,” he said, “before hope.”
Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank’s childhood friend Jacqueline van Maarsen were honored, alongside Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley.
When Cruz got on stage, for a moment the room shifted into a political rally more than a charity dinner: Cruz walked around the podium, without notes, and gave an impassioned address which listed his successes in office and proven commitment to Israel.
“Let us think about tomorrow. In nineteen months, there will be a new president of the United States.”
Applause, screams and cheers. Thank Gods were heard throughout the front tables.
“Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine America standing unapologetically with the nation of Israel.”
Cruz promised that, as president, he would move the embassy to Jerusalem: “We need a leader who will act, and who will respect eternal capital of Israel.”
At the next table, a woman wiped away a tear. Cruz knows his audience: He speaks their language. He addresses the fears of American Jewry, and has clearly read American Jewish newspapers closely to understand the burning debates of Jews on this side of the Atlantic.
In his address, Cruz singled out Sheldon and Miriam Adelson as “fearless warriors standing for the United States and for the nation of Israel” - who many suspect will be his backers this election season. Reporter Jacob Kornbluh noted, and wondered aloud on Twitter, that Adelson gave Cruz a standing ovation but sat still when Christie finished speaking: an indication perhaps fitting with Miriam’s professed fondness for Cruz, as Buzzfeed reported this week.
During an intermission from speeches, the evening’s auction-style fundraiser tried hard to milk a tough audience. The cause: funding Boteach’s newest project, Israel Warriors’ Handbook, a new Hasbara manual defending Israel’s right to defense, probably focusing on in-depth high-level military strategy, written by an American rabbi living in Englewood, New Jersey.
The Adelson and Falic families each donated $1 million - the other gifts were relatively small and sparse. One guest purchased lunch with Adelson for $50,000. Miriam Adelson was noticeably absent, and her husband emphasized that it was her decision to support the cause; he himself remained quiet on the subject.
“So why are we here again?” One guest said aloud, giggling. Her table’s neighbors laughed with her. It seemed to be the question that many guests were asking tonight, like a wedding you don’t want to attend but find yourself enjoying the people watching at anyways.
The audience was not there to donate, after all - they were there to watch the Shmuley show.