It was, for all intents and purposes, the night of the Jewish Oscars, bang in the middle of the awards season — and a triumphant occasion when the Jewish community got to celebrate its own winners.
The Jewish News’ “Night of Heroes”, in partnership with the technology company LABS, more than two years in the planning, attracted almost 500 people from across the community and beyond. It was a unique occasion for, as editor Richard Ferrer put it, telling stories, the DNA of every newspaper.
On this night, however, the stories were not always the headline-makers, but the stories of ordinary men and women — and children — who had somehow become extraordinary, who had risen above difficulties placed in their paths and done the impossible.
It was a night of eye-popping surprise — former prime minister Tony Blair turning up to make an emotional speech honouring Lifetime Achievement winner Rabbi Lord Sacks — and full-blown fan worship, as boys, big and little, got to see international Israeli footballer Tomer Hemed.
READ MORE – Night of Heroes:
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- In Pictures: Jewish News’ Night of Heroes
A total of nine awards were handed out on the night, including Community Ally, given to Maajid Nawaz for his work challenging anti-Semitism, and Special Recognition, handed to broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky, for her work recording testimony from Holocaust survivors.
— Mark Regev (@MarkRegev) February 19, 2018
Big names from British public life lined up in film to praise some of the award-winners, from Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
For the winner of the Israeli hero category, cardiac surgeon Dr Lior Sasson, there was the extra fillip of a smiling video message from Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin.
Undoubtedly, however, the stories which were most affecting were those relating to children, either the charities set up to work in their names, or the children themselves who had overcome grief and hardship.
At almost every table, as the children were honoured, tears rolled down people’s faces and compere for the night, David Walliams, himself a renowned children’s author, admitted he had not been far from tears all evening.
So the gesture of Community Hero Norman Rosenbaum, an 83-year-old retired surgeon, in handing over his award to the parents of Gavriel Rosenfeld, Kerry and Doron, made almost everyone in the room cry. “I am old,” said Mr Rosenbaum, who has raised money for 11 Magen David Adom ambulances in Israel and is about to donate a twelfth. “But Gavriel, we hope, has his whole life ahead of him”. Gavriel suffers from Duchenne disease and in 2007 his parents set up the Duchenne Research Fund which has so far raised more than £7 million to support medical research into Duchenne, a form of muscular dystrophy.
Could he hand over his award, Mr Rosenbaum asked, gently? Was it permitted in the rules? No question. He was cheered to the rafters and Kerry Rosenfeld admitted that she had been “blown away” by his action. She was not alone.
And, despite the individual awards, it must be admitted that on a damp and rainy night in central London, pretty much everyone was a winner. After a hard few years politically and socially, the Anglo-Jewish community was more than ready to be caring and sharing. As Bowie famously put it, we can be heroes — just for one day.