Local Grassroots Group Raises $25K for Hatzalah
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Local Grassroots Group Raises $25K for Hatzalah

Individuals from all parts of the Jewish community joined for a concert that raised funds for the Israeli emergency medical response operation.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

A group of local grassroots supporters organized a benefit concert on Feb. 11 featuring singer Benny Friedman that raised $25,000 for United Hatzalah.
A group of local grassroots supporters organized a benefit concert on Feb. 11 featuring singer Benny Friedman that raised $25,000 for United Hatzalah.

United Hatzalah is the all-volunteer Israeli organization that responds within minutes to any medical emergency — for free. Hatzalah responded to almost 100,000 calls throughout Israel in 2023, often serving as first responders on site in crisis situations.

Hatzalah depends on financial support from Jews all over the world. Raising money for this life-saving organization was the goal of a group of Atlantans who sponsored an event that was meaningful and enjoyable enough to generate, through ticket sales, a significant financial contribution to Hatzalah. The event was a Benny Friedman Am Yisrael Chai concert (‘Am Yisrael Chai’ is Hebrew for ‘the Jewish People lives’).

Friedman is a popular American Jewish singer. Professionally trained in voice, he rose to fame in the Orthodox music scene, and he now performs for Jews of all backgrounds and ages. Singing both in Hebrew and English, Friedman tours extensively. His current rousing 2024 Am Yisrael Chai Tour with a six-piece band, accompanied by well-known Jewish singer, Moshe Tischler, helps communities around the U.S. raise money for Israel.

The concert took place at the Atlanta Jewish Academy theater on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 11. It was advertised on the popular social media platform, WhatsApp, and in fliers and posters all over Atlanta; once the flyer for the concert was shared via WhatsApp, the venue sold out in under 48 hours.

Many families pledged more than the ticket prices, like the Neil and Sara Davis family, who, upon getting news of the concert, immediately pledged $1,000, giving the fundraising from ticket sales a powerful boost when their donation was announced at the concert. During the concert, another donor challenged others to make contributions which, when totaled, would match his $5,000 gift. Individual donations from the audience met the challenge within minutes, and more spontaneous donations followed. A screen on stage recorded donations as they came in, and by the concert’s end, a grand total of $25,334 was raised for Hatzalah.

The concert was sponsored by a group who wanted to bring Friedman to Atlanta in person and to use ticket sales for his show to support Israel. Four event sponsors — Chabad of Georgia, the Holland Family, Erica and Randall Katz and Family, and Carol and Ian Ratner and Family — covered the costs of the Am Yisrael Chai concert itself, and the money from the ticket sales was donated to United Hatzalah.

Tickets were priced at levels meant to include everyone. The VIP section tickets sold for $72; however, general admission was $18, $10 for kids, $7 for a third (or more) child in a family. More than 650 Jews and community members came together for the concert and sang along with their Israeli brothers and sisters in mind. As one of the concert committee members put it, “K’ish echad b’lev echad,” meaning Atlantans at the concert were “like one person with one heart.”

Singer Benny Friedman played a benefit concert at Atlanta Jewish Academy on Feb. 11 with the funds supporting United Hatzalah in Israel.

In addition to the four sponsoring families, a number of people were eager to join the “Benny team.” Jonny Farazmand, Chaim Zippel, Avremel Chazanow, Shmuel Lokshin, Alexa Szegedi, and Mendel Ehrenreich helped in myriad ways to make the complex event run smoothly. Rabbi Levitt, Atlanta Jewish Academy headmaster, went out of his way to help, aided by staff members Franeen Sarif, Breit Katz, Scott Forbus, Patrick Fenderson, and the AJA marketing team. Beaux Balloons donated festive balloon arches.

Amazingly, the concert came together in a few weeks. It began when Chaim Zippel, Benny Friedman’s tour director, contacted Atlantan Ian Ratner, who loved the concert idea. Although Ian couldn’t personally devote time to managing the tour visit, his wife, Carol, agreed to take the leadership role. She subsequently identified a small group to cover the concert costs. Zippel suggested four available dates, the only afternoon date being the day of the Super Bowl. One of the objectives of the program was to be inclusive of children, so the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday was chosen.

Carol quickly contacted Rabbi Levitt, principal of Atlanta Jewish Academy, about a community opportunity to support Israel at AJA, and they met the next morning. Carol then called Erica Katz to ask if she and her husband, Randall, would help sponsor the concert. The request was for $5,000; Carol figured that four generous donors could cover the Benny Friedman concert cost and still have a cushion for expenses. All ticket sales would be donated to an Israeli charity. Randall Katz had talked to the Ratner’s about bringing musician Eitan Katz to AJA a few years ago, so Carol hoped Benny Friedman would be of interest, too. Carol’s daughter, Alexa Szegedi, said her kids would love the concert, and they were certain that hundreds of other Atlanta families with children would attend. An affordable, family-friendly, afternoon concert of Jewish music would check all the boxes, and still give everyone time to go home to watch the Super Bowl.

Carol contacted Hillary Holland next. Judah, her husband, Randall Katz, and Ian Ratner had worked with Magen David Adom to raise money for two ambulances in Israel after Oct. 7. Holland agreed to be a sponsor and suggested the charity, either Hatzalah or ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Israel’s volunteer Disaster Victim Identification organization that provides a rapid response to mass casualty disasters.)

Fortuitously, the Ratner’s had recently heard Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, and president of the U.S.-based Friends of United Hatzalah, at a synagogue in Bal Harbor, Fla., and they also met a rep from Hatzalah at a Shabbat meal in Miami, so they favored Hatzalah. Ian Ratner called Rabbi Isser New to get his input. Rabbi New and Chabad of Georgia wanted to be involved, too. Mendel Ehrenreich offered to help with artwork and posters. The next day, Rabbi Levitt worked out the details of the school being available for an afternoon concert on Jan.11. Soon, another Israel supporter, Avremel Chazanow, told Ian that he and a team wanted to help. Carol asked her daughter, Alexa, to join them; the group was now ready to have their first Zoom meeting about the concert.

A few weeks later, on the afternoon of Feb. 11, with all the pieces in place, the concert was a reality, and two hours of family entertainment and fund-raising for Hatzalah took place at AJA. Preceding the performance, Chabad Rabbi Isser New led the crowd in the recitation of Psalm 121, relevant to the current situation in Israel. Gavy Friedson, the Deputy Director of International Operations at Hatzalah United, spoke movingly about Hatzalah’s mission, and Rabbi Dr. Mark Goldfeder, director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center, presented an award to State Rep. Esther Panitch, who co- sponsored HB 30, the “Antisemitism Bill,” which was signed by Governor Brian Kemp on Jan. 31.

The concert ended joyously with everyone on their feet singing and dancing along to Benny Friedman and Moshe Tischler’s medley of Jewish favorites, including, “Hinei Ma Tov,” and “Moshiach.”

Carol Ratner sums up the experience of spearheading the event, “The opportunity to bring Benny Friedman to Atlanta as part of his Am Yisrael Chai tour was presented to us by a friend of a friend. We love Jewish music and jumped on the opportunity. It was important to us to make the concert family-affordable and raise money for Israel.”

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