Sunday, May 31 was the Celebrate Israel Parade up 5th Avenue in New York City. But there was a second celebration of love for Israel later that evening: the 22nd Annual Israel Day Concert in Central Park.
The concert is officially known as the Carl Freyer z’l Tribute, in Memorial to Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann, Annual Israel Day Concert in Central Park, but most people refer to it as the Central Park Concert for Israel. That concert took place at Central Park’s SummerStage in Rumsey Playfield. The master of ceremonies was radio personality Nachum Segal, Zvika Bornstein was the musical producer, and Shloime Dachs, the musical director.
The keynote speaker this year was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is a current presidential hopeful (he was scheduled as a speaker well in advance of announcing his candidacy.) Huckabee has visited Israel 42 times. Four of those trips were organized by the concert’s organizer and chairman, Drs. Joe Frager and Paul Brody.
New York State Assemblyman Daniel Weprin presented an official citation to Brody and Frager, City Councilman Rory Lancman spoke, as did many others. There were video greetings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ministers Danny Danon and Naftali Bennett, Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Opposition leader and Knesset Member Isaac Herzog and Chief Rabbi David Lau.
The Central Park concert for Israel began 22 years ago as a response to what some insightful supporters of Israel understood was going to be disastrous: the Oslo Accords. While so many armchair experts and even seasoned professionals rejoiced at what they expected would mean the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there were plenty of people who anticipated the long, bloody fallout of making concessions to terrorists.
And so, as Dr. Paul Brody, someone who has been chair of the concert for a decade, together with his wife Drora, shared the history of the event with The JewishPress.com,
On Sept. 13, 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed and brought misery to the State of Israel. Israel so much wanted Peace that it bent over backwards to make a deal that subsequently has cost over a thousand lives and haunts all to this very day. On December 13, 1993, the day that the Oslo Accords were to be implemented, Dr. Joseph Frager, along with a few others, organized a Rally of over 5000 people in Times Square to oppose its implementation. That was the largest Rally of its kind in North America. In order to maintain the momentum against the disaster that awaited, a Concert in Central Park was proposed. The actual idea came from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat. The financing came from Carl Freyer, of Blessed Memory, and his wife Sylvia. That was how it all began. Dr. Frager helped Gaby Goslan to organize the first Concert and has organized every one subsequently.
Those most intimately involved in striving to protect Israel from its enemies, including its internal enemies, have spoken at the concert. In his heyday, then-General Ariel Sharon spoke against the Oslo Accords at the Central Park concert in 1994. Senator Ted Cruz, a good friend of Israel, spoke at the concert last year. In 2003 Benjamin Netanyahu was the guest speaker.
Carl Z”L and Sylvia Freyer were the concert’s Founders, and were joined by Dr. Manfred R. Lehmann Z”L and Rose Mattus Z”L as the driving forces behind the concerts, and Dr. Lehmann was the concert’s first chairman. Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach Z”L performed at the 1994 concert. It was his last major performance.
In addition to providing a forum for leading Zionists to speak to a huge crowd eager to hear what they rarely have the opportunity to hear in public, and providing the crowd with raucously hard core Jewish music, the concert also serves to highlight critically important issues and causes.
For example, in 2005, the focus was on the then-impending expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Gush Katif and northern Shomron, known as the “Disengagement.”
In 2008, the concert was dedicated to the eight students at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva who were murdered. The following year Noam Shalit, the father of the then-captive Gilad Shalit spoke at the Concert.
Dr. Paul Brody and his wife, Drora, chaired this year’s concert, as they have for the past ten years. And once again the event was organized by Dr. Joe and Karen Frager.
This year the concert was dedicated to honoring the memory of the three Israeli boys who were kidnapped and murdered last year, Gilad Shaar HY”D, Naftali Frenkel HY”D and Eyal Yifrach HY”D, whose first yarzheit was held this week.
The plight of Jonathan Pollard remains a significant concern for the organizers and participants of the Central Park concert.
Brody also pointed out this year, as is the case every year, one of the major messages of this “Concert With A Message” is the celebration of the Jews’ eternal bond with the undivided capital of Israel: Yerushalayim.
Brody explained that while most groups who call themselves pro-Israel claim to oppose the BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel) Movement, for too many the boycotting of products and places beyond the “Green Line” is acceptable. For the concert organizers and participants, any boycott of Israelis or Israeli products is unacceptable and has no place in America or anywhere else in the world.
This year’s current topic at the concert was the looming Iranian crisis.
Concert organizers called for increasing sanctions and more aggressive action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weaponized country, right in Israel’s backyard.
The man scheduled to speak on this topic, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was prevented from addressing the full crowd of thousands because the City’s Parks Department shut down the event two and a half hours early after the heavens opened just after 4:00 p.m. Within an hour the City informed everyone they had to leave the park as a violent storm approached.
Bolton is on the record: he believes that any agreement with Iran must include full and spontaneous inspection access or it will fail.
Despite the truncated concert, quite a few of the scheduled musical guests were able to perform, representing countries around the world.