One night of fireworks.
Renting an amphitheater for 7,500.
One staged shtick that involves a helicopter display.
A hundred member dance troupe.
Cost: Somewhere around a few hundred thousand dollars, according to the head of the Birthright Israel foundation, Jay Golan.
Watching one Israeli prime minister currently in the political gallows for alleged underhanded dealings with ultra-wealthy Americans publicly hobnob with ultra-wealthy Americans, then give an awkward rah rah speech in front of 6,500 18-26 year old Diaspora Jews most of whom have never heard the name Talansky: Priceless.
Birthright Israel held its mega-event Sunday night, June 1. The event, which the organization holds around five times a year whenever it has a critical mass of young Jews in Israel, is nothing if not a resplendent spectacle.
This week’s mega, held at the Latrun amphitheater, about a half hour outside Jerusalem, may have been the most elaborate yet. As Birthright plans on bringing some 40,000 kids to Israel this summer, the organization pulled no stops, especially with some of the biggest names in Jewish philanthropy in attendance.
The mega featured elaborately choreographed dance routines by dozens and dozens of Israeli young adults, enough fireworks to pass for the Fourth of July, a filmed skit that included flying via helicopter an IDF soldier in real time from his base to Latrun, and an Olympic style torch lighting ceremony that left “Taglit BRI” burning in 20-foot letters near the back of the packed house.
But Ehud Olmert provided the mega’s highlight, if simply for sheer irony.
Olmert, whose political career is now on the rocks after his dealings with American financier Moshe Talansky came to light last month, was given a Rocky Balboa type welcome.
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And Talansky is small potatoes compared with the Birthright bigwigs in the house Sunday. Among them, Michael Steinhardt, who retired from his hedge fund career with more than a half a billion in the bank; Charles Bronfman, the billionaire heir to the Seagram’s fortune; Lynn Schusterman, the widow of energy magnate Charles Schusterman; Rena Slomovic, the sister of the late Jim Joseph; and Daniel Och, the president of Och Ziff Capital Management, one of the fastest growing hedge funds on the Street.
For Olmert, always known for his ability to woo American money as the mayor of Jerusalem, this seemed truly a mega-opportunity.
The Fundermentalist will not say that Olmert was kissing up, but he spent a full two-and-a-half minutes at the beginning of his seven-and-a-half-minute speech thanking by name individual Birthright donors.
(The move played well, as the Fundermentalist overheard a couple of those mentioned by Olmert still giddy at the PM name drop after the event.)
And he gave B-right some serious PM props: “Of all of the different operations in the Jewish world, this one, Birthright-taglit, is the most important, the most significant and the most influential for the future of the Jewish people,” he said.
He did actually address the B-right kids in attendance, telling them: “There is only one place in the world which is ours, and this is our place! This is not just a country. This is your home. There is no other home in this world, aside from this one.”
But Olmert stayed on message: “I know the founders. I know the donors. I was always impressed by their generosity and their wiling to give so much to make this happen.”