Stars honoured at glittering Night of Heroes Awards

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Stars honoured at glittering Night of Heroes Awards

Jewish News honours our community's greatest mensches at glitziest night of the year

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair 

Credit: Blake Ezra
Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair Credit: Blake Ezra

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.

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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.

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.

Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.

We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.

Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”

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