With Israel in their hearts, award-winners stand out

Israel in Our Hearts Awards recognize individuals who have demonstrated an outstanding

commitment to Israel and proven leadership in an initiative or program that has enhanced the Jewish community’s relationship with Israel.

Liki Abrams

Liki Abrams was nominated for “her incredible energy, her insight into the local community, and her ability to maintain strong relationships with a wide range of organizations.” Her leadership qualities in addition to her love of Israel are the driving force behind her willingness to take on leadership roles in many Israel-related organizations.

She has been active throughout the Bay Area for more 20 years. Besides being substantively involved in AIPAC, the Israel lobby group, she has been an integral force within the Israel and Overseas Committee of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, leading the federation’s Jewish Identity and Pluralism committee for four years, and now serving as both the co-chair of the Israel Travel Initiative and head of the Living Bridge committee.

In addition, she has held leadership roles in the federation’s Women’s Alliance, Power of One, and the board of directors, as well as serving as campaign chair of the North Peninsula Jewish Federation.

Abrams is a strong promoter of Israeli-American relations and a positive force in bringing Israelis and Americans together to learn and to explore issues, similarities and differences. Her Peninsula home is always the first stop on a tour of Israelis visiting the Bay Area, and she represents the Bay Area Jewish community as a gracious hostess and guide.

She was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of her “tireless leadership and ongoing commitment to building a strong and vital relationship between the Bay Area and Israel.”

Rabbi Camille Shira Angel

Throughout her seven years at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, Rabbi Camille Shira Angel has consistently used the bimah to raise awareness of and create dialogue among her congregants about Israel. Instead of ignoring challenging discourse, she handles sensitive issues in a productive and respectful way, “sparking inclusive dialogue where people of differing viewpoints can ultimately learn from each other.”

Committed to nurturing the burgeoning progressive LGBT community in Israel, the rabbi led a group of congregants to Israel in the midst of last summer’s war, in support of World Pride. The Jerusalem Open House, a Jerusalem-based grassroots activist LGBT organization, sponsored the event.

Sha’ar Zahav was the only synagogue represented from America’s Reform movement, which speaks volumes about Angel’s leadership in supporting Israel, according to the awards committee.

Rabbi Camille Shira Angel was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of her “continued efforts to strengthen our community’s relationship with Israel and for her efforts in support of Israel’s LGBT community.”

Eric Benhamou

Since immigrating to the United States from France, Eric Benhamou has dedicated his life to strengthening the relationship between the United States and Israel. His businesses and philanthropic efforts have played a substantial and vital role in Silicon Valley, Israel and throughout the world.

His goal is to strengthen the vibrant and enduring partnership between the United States and Israel, and between Americans and Israelis.

In addition to serving on several boards of directors, Benhamou is chairman of both the Israel Venture Network, a venture philanthropy organization for a stronger Israeli society, and the Advisory Board of the California Israel Chamber of Commerce, which is dedicated to strengthening business and trade relations between California and Israel.

He also served at the national level on the Joint High Level Advisory Panel of the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission.

His efforts for Israel have won him the prestigious David Packard Civic Entrepreneur Award for bringing an entrepreneurial, cross-boundaries, problem-solving approach to Silicon Valley’s challenges. And he was recognized for his commitment to Israel by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Foreign Investor Jubilee Award.

Eric Benhamou was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of his “professional and philanthropic efforts towards prosperity, security and innovation in the country of Israel.”

Herb Friedman

Herb Friedman is uniformly hailed as an outstanding community builder. “His generosity supports, among other projects, people-to-people programs that foster volunteerism in Israel and travel to Israel.”

Actively demonstrating his support for individuals making personal connections to Israel, Friedman conceived and created one of the first philanthropic funds, the Israel Scholarship Fund, that provides life-changing travel/study trips to Israel. In addition, Friedman, together with Ami Nahshon, began the Israel Shaliach Program more than 20 years ago. The program bases Israeli emissaries in the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay for two to three years.

Friedman’s knowledge of, and commitment to, Jewish history is well-known in the Bay Area. His sense of history, together with his commitment and dedication to the Jewish state, has impelled him to provide financial and emotional support to East Bay federation educational programs that show the Israel “behind the headlines.” His efforts enhance congregational and midrashot schools, as well as the general and student community through the decade-long annual program Israel Education Day in Berkeley.

Herb Friedman was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of his strong support of and commitment to Israel through his actions, words and resources.

Riva Gambert

Riva Gambert’s commitment to the Jewish state began when, as a graduate student studying in Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, she dedicated herself to the risky task of helping to salvage old explosive weapons to be used in defense of the country. Since then she has spent her entire professional life sharing her love for Israel.

Through her leadership roles in the Jewish community in the East Bay, Gambert has brought Israel-related programming to the area and served as a catalyst for grassroots advocacy and cultural/educational programming, including film festivals, book fairs, lecture series and celebrations.

Her role as an educator also reflects her deep commitment in Israel. As an active member of the Midrasha system of the East Bay, she has taught for more than 12 years, writing several curricula, including one for Jerusalem 2000 and one for Israel at 50.

In addition, she has taught Lehrhaus Judaica courses on Israel and lectured extensively on Israel-related matters throughout the Bay Area. “With flair and erudition,” writes one nominator, “[Riva] has single-handedly educated much of the Jewish population of the East Bay about the importance of Israel.”

Riva Gambert was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of her “singular and longstanding commitment and dedication to promote Israel education, Israel culture and Israel awareness in our community.”

The Rev. Doug Huneke

The Rev. Doug Huneke is a voice of conscience in the Presbyterian community. Deeply offended by his denomination’s support of selective divestment from Israel, Huneke helped mount a national campaign to restore a sense of balance in the positions of Presbyterian Church USA.

A scholar of the Holocaust who wrote “The Moses of Rovno,” a book about a Righteous Gentile, Huneke has stood with the Jewish community repeatedly in times of need. He has spoken at rallies in support of Israel, offering a passionate Christian voice as a friend of Israel. The Marin resident has written articles, spoken from the pulpit, stood with Jews at San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza and appeared in synagogues to demonstrate the depth of his commitment to peace and security for Israel and its neighbors.

The Rev. Doug Huneke was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of his “continued and steadfast friendship to Israel and to our Jewish community.”

Rachel Lewin and Marit Shmargad

Thanks to the commitment and dedication of Rachel Lewin and Marit Shmargad, Israel has become a core component of Jewish identity at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City. Understanding the significance of Israel education in the curriculum, they have been instrumental in the establishment of a grassroots twinning initiative between Wornick and the Reali School in Haifa, Israel, a project that impacts not only students, but teachers, families and the community as a whole.

As a result of their efforts, teachers and administrators have met on both here and in Israel to develop joint learning materials and curriculum. Today daily emails, newsletters, photo albums and other communications are exchanged between American and Israeli students in all grades. Seventh and eighth grade students travel to Israel for study seminars during which they meet their peers at Reali School and spend time together.

Marit Shmargad and Rachel Lewin have been cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of “their ongoing efforts to create change and promote Israel within the Wornick Jewish Day School. They have led the way for the school to establish itself as an innovative leader in Israel education.”

Yitzhak Santis

For many years Yitzhak Santis has been the person at the front lines of the Jewish community’s pro-Israel advocacy efforts. Whether through “backgrounders,” action alerts, opinion pieces, PowerPoint presentations or teaching schoolteachers, Santis works tirelessly to build understanding of and support for Israel.

Recognized as an “articulate and reasoned voice for Israel,” Santis is one of the community’s chief spokespersons on Israel-related issues when the media calls.

But media and public gatherings are not the only venues in which he provides a reasoned voice for Israel. In his capacity as director of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) Middle East Project, he has initiated many programs, including the church outreach project to build understanding about Israel in Protestant churches; the media monitoring project; JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), which he co-founded; and numerous other initiatives.

Yitzhak Santis is looked to by colleagues around the country for his knowledge, expertise and strategizing on Israel advocacy, and in recognition of this leadership he has been cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award.

Rita Semel

Rita Semel has spent a remarkable career in Jewish community relations as a tireless advocate for Israel and strong American-Israel relations.

At the Jewish Community Relations Council, where she ultimately served as executive director, Semel launched a program to take non-Jewish community leaders to Israel, including public officials, university presidents, ethnic and religious leaders, labor and LGBT leaders. That the program has continued strong for 20 years and has had a tremendous positive impact on the community is a testament to her foresight and dedication.

By working at the national level on Project Interchange, another program focused on taking non-Jewish leaders to Israel, Semel, of San Francisco, excelled in helping Christian leaders understand the connection of the Jewish community to Israel.

Semel has “done more outreach to the Christian community than perhaps anyone else in the Jewish community,” wrote one who nominated her.

For decades at JCRC, Semel helped mobilize the community whenever there was a crisis in Israel, reaching out to the media and leaders of other communities as well, to explain the Jewish community’s views and, when appropriate, to seek support.

Rita Semel was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of her “ongoing commitment to stand up for Israel whenever the country needs a vocal advocate in inter-group or interfaith settings.”

Joseph Zatkin

“When we think of our East Bay Jewish community’s longtime strong connection to Israel,” write those who nominated Joe Zatkin for an Israel in Our Hearts Award, “it is Joe’s face that we see — urging the community to build a dynamic bridge to Israel, insisting that there is always more that can be done … and showing pride — without hesitation — at being a Zionist.”

As a result of his travels to Israel, especially during wartime, Zatkin has stood out as one of the East Bay’s most vigorous and passionate fundraisers for Israel. Seeing firsthand the impact of war on the people of Israel, he has campaigned tirelessly for overseas funding.

Whether acting as campaign chair, foundation chair or president of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, or as president of the local Jewish National Fund, Zatkin has been the consummate advocate for everything Israel-related.

When honored by Israel Bonds for his vision and efforts, he was called “a man of dreams whose efforts and concern on behalf of the people of Israel have made those dreams a reality.”

Joseph Zatkin was cited for the Israel in Our Hearts Award in recognition of his “efforts, which continuously strengthened and enriched our community’s relationship with Israel.”