Israeli-American community rallies for local hostage

Israeli-American community rallies for local hostage

ON THE COVER:  Assaf Wolff speaks at an evening in support of hostage Edan Alexander and his family. (Photo by Shahar Azran)
ON THE COVER: Assaf Wolff speaks at an evening in support of hostage Edan Alexander and his family. (Photo by Shahar Azran)

When he was a child in Tenafly, Edan Alexander, the Israeli-born son of Israeli-American parents, went to the first Hebrew school program run by a new organization for Israeli-Americans called Bereisheet.

That was in 2011. In 2022, after he graduated from Tenafly High School, he went to Israel as a lone soldier, becoming part of the iconic Golani Brigade.

The audience listens as Yael Alexander talks about her kidnapped son. (Shahar Azran)

On October 7, he was abducted by Hamas terrorists. He is 19 years old, and no one has heard from him since that terrible day.

There is a large community of Israeli-Americans in Bergen County, concentrated mostly in the Northern Valley. Bereisheet, a fully volunteer-run nonprofit organization, works to provide ways to help its members retain their Israeli identity, even as they fit comfortably into their lives in America. It offers afterschool classes in Hebrew for kindergarteners to eighth-graders to help them retain their mother tongue, and it gives adults the chance to meet and network.

From left, Ido Solomon, Adi and Yael Alexander, Vered Agmon, and Asaf Wolff hold some of the donated jerseys. (Shahar Azran)

Asaf Wolff of Cresskill is on Bereisheet’s board; he and Ido Solomon, who also lives in Cresskill, are good friends. “Ido approached me about six weeks ago with the idea of creating an event for the community,” which is dealing with the trauma of being far away from home at a time when home is under direct and horrifying attack, Mr. Wolff said.

“We wanted to do something that was a fundraiser to benefit families of hostages and the victims of the October 7 massacre, but we wanted to add something else to it,” Mr. Solomon said. “We didn’t just want to have an event where we asked for money.” Because one of the responses to evil is to go on doing good, they also wanted to have an evening that included fun.

Roee Alexander, far left, and other players are at NVSA in Closter. (Shahar Azran)

“We both love soccer very much, so we decided that a soccer tournament would be fun for kids and their parents,” Mr. Wolff said. It was a mixed game, with parents and kids playing together. “And it wasn’t a tournament,” he added. “It wasn’t for winning — it was just for playing.”

So last Saturday night, about 120 people came to play soccer, watch their kids and friends play soccer, or have fun at the volunteer-staffed arts and crafts booths for children who weren’t old enough or interested enough to play soccer.

Three generations of the Shmida family of Tenafly were at the NVSA in Closter. (Shahar Azran)

The program was at the Northern Valley Sports Authority in Closter — it was far too cold even to consider playing soccer outdoors — and the venue was provided to them at no cost. Entirely free. That was thanks to the generosity of its owner, Sami Sujak, and his family; both Mr. Solomon and Mr. Wolff stressed how touched they were by the Sujaks’ generosity and commitment to the cause, and by the kindness and generosity of NVSA’s staff.

Through their connections, Mr. Wolff and Mr. Solomon were able to get jerseys from some of the top Israeli soccer teams, including Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Israel’s national soccer team — some of them even were signed — and auction them off.

Yael Alexander, Edan’s mother, speaks, as his father, Adi, and his little brother, Roee, stand by. (Shahar Azran)

Shahar Azran, an Israeli-American professional photographer who lives locally, also was on hand to document the evening.

That was the fun part of the proceedings. The tragic part was that the reason for the evening was the massacre, the hostages in general, and Edan Alexander in particular.

Liam and Daniel Korenberg of Closter stand with their friend Roee Alexander at the auction. (Shahar Azran)

Edan’s mother, Yael, his father, Adi, and his little brother, Roee, were there; he also has a sister, Mika. Yael Alexander spoke. “It was very emotional,” Mr. Wolff said.

The next day, Yael and Adi Alexander released a statement.

The crowd listens as Asaf Wolff talks about the hostages. (Shahar Azran)

“We would like to thank Bereisheet and the Israeli community for their unwavering support,” they wrote. “The event yesterday served as a strong testament to the love and solidarity within the community….

“In addition, we express our sincere thanks to the Biden administration for their determined efforts in negotiating another deal with Hamas. This ongoing commitment is crucial for securing the release of Edan and all the hostages at the earliest opportunity.

Ido Solomon stands with his children; from left, Daniel, Naomi, and Yonathan. (Yael Alexander)

“Our collective prayers, joined by the entire community, are directed towards the safe release of Edan and the hostages. Our ultimate desire is to witness their return home, safe and healthy, and to be reunited with us.”

“The Alexanders’ little son, Roee, was very happy to be there,” Mr. Solomon said. “They came with a few friends and stayed until the end, and Roee was able to be a normal kid again, for two or three hours.”

Bereisheet usually holds events of some sort or another every few months. Mr. Solomon and Mr. Wolff have no idea whether the next meeting will have something to do with the hostages or the war. “We hope that by the time we have another one, the war will be over and the hostages are back home,” Mr. Wolff said. “We hope we won’t have time for another one.”

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