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Bush, Sharon expected to attend gala as Israel turns 55 years old

By Matthew E. Berger
Feb 24, 2003


BALTIMORE, Feb. 24 (JTA)— President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are expected to attend a May 19 rally in Washington to commemorate Israel’s 55th birthday.

The “Concert for Israel” will feature major entertainment acts and political messages of support for the Jewish state, said leaders of the Israel Forever Foundation, a new organization formed by leading Jewish philanthropists to honor Israel.

“The focus is to recognize the contributions of Israel and the Jewish people to democracy and to humankind,” said Richard Heidemann, a former president of B’nai B’rith International, who is serving as national chair of the foundation with his wife, Phyllis.

Organizers hope to sell out the MCI Center in downtown Washington, which can hold close to 15,000 people, and to use the concert to launch Israel@55, a yearlong series of educational events about Israel across the United States, Heidemann said.

“We’re going to use a series of activities to raise the spirits of the Jewish people and raise the spirits of Israel, because these are difficult times,” he said.

Organizers said the event has been placed on Bush’s calendar, though the White House would not confirm.

“They have given us the commitment they will be there,” said Jeanne Ellinport, executive director of the foundation.

Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told participants at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs plenum in Baltimore on Sunday that Sharon also would attend the gala.

More than 100,000 people attended a rally for Israel last year on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building. But Heidemann said he did not expect masses of people to travel to Washington for the May 19 event, which would not have the same political undertones.

“It’s a totally different type of event and approach,” he said. “This is supposed to be a concert about the spirit of Israel.”

The foundation has hired Wayne Baruch of Los Angeles to produce the event. He was responsible for Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia, and has produced concerts of “The 3 Tenors.”

Ellinport would not say who would perform at the concert, but said the foundation was in discussions with “top-tier talent.” Promoters expert to feature Israeli companies in the venue’s concourse.

The concert has been scheduled for Lag B’Omer so as not to conflict with other celebrations of Israel’s Independence Day two weeks before.
In addition to ticket sales, the event is being funded by individual donations and foundation contributions, Ellinport said.

Among the honorary chairs of the event are Abe Pollin, owner of the MCI Center; Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and James Tisch, chairman of the United Jewish Communities umbrella organization of Jewish federations.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews also is planning an event in Washington, scheduled for April 2, to show interfaith support for Israel.
The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), he ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee, will be honored at the latter event, which is expected to bring 500 evangelical Christian leaders from around the country.

“What we want to do with this event is bring together and educate folks on the ground, the people who love Israel but don’t know what do with this love,” said George Mamo, executive vice president of the International Fellowship.

Because the interfaith event is the same week as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference, organizers hope Sharon or another senior Israeli official will attend.

Performers supporting Israel at the concert include Jerry Seinfeld, Norah Jones, Tony Bennett, Noa, Ben Stein and Tovah Feldshuh.