Above: Merle Guttmann; below: Debby Lieberman & Zeev Bielski
The end of a perfect day and the audience gathered in the auditorium of Shefayim to honor some of those volunteers who have helped to make Esra what it is today. In opening the evening the compere, Jennia Chodorov, spoke of the significant contributions of these members who have given of their time, their thought, their planning and their efforts in helping to make a difference in the lives of various sectors of our society. In spite of the fact that Esra, said Jennia, is probably "the best kept secret in Israel" over ten thousand people have and are receiving help, encouragement and assistance. Merle Gutmann, the founder of Esra, recalled the first gathering of 250 English speakers which she chaired on April 5th, 1979 at Yad LeBanim in Herzliya. “The energies, the desires and the voices of encouragement that emanated from those present, that is what drove me to form Esra,” said Merle. From that initial meeting thirty years of combined effort in "making a difference" has brought massive positive results. Merle continued:
“Today Esra has 15 branches, and a wide spectrum of events in English – 22 weekly activities, 34 cultural events every two months, 39 cultural and volunteering projects in hand…and the extent of our projects for the general community over the past 20 years too is vast – for Russians, Ethiopians, people with disabilities and special needs, victims of family violence, the impoverished and the hungry: we have helped 70,000 families, initiated and run 160 community projects and raised and spent 45 million shekel.”
Debby Lieberman, Esra’s chairperson, in talking about the recipients of this year’s volunteer awards, said that although every Esra volunteer is deserving of appreciation and mention, at the Awards Ceremony 2008 we were honoring sixteen volunteers who have exhibited special qualities of leadership in Esra, who have shown dedication to the organization through many years of service, and who have contributed significantly to shaping the development and character of Esra. Debby added that they were representative of the more than 900 active volunteers who give of their time, their talents and their hard work to make Esra the remarkable organization it is.
Zeev Bielski, head of the Jewish Agency, a devoted friend and admirer of Esra, came especially to thank the recipients of the award. He also told the audience of his long-lasting attachment to South Africans which began when he met Hertzel Katz, who introduced him to the South African Zionist Federation, a step which changed his life and brought him close to the Anglo Community. He became both a groupie and a fan of Esra and did everything he could to encourage and assist the organization in its progress.
Certificates were presented to the award recipients and thirty candles of celebration were lit by them. The proceedings were interspersed by the melodious singing of "the Barbarinas" who added their touch of nostalgia to the events.