By  on May 10, 2007

Gilbert Harrison and his wife, Shelley, opened up their Manhattan home to launch the Retail and Apparel Leadership Group of the UJA-Federation of New York last Thursday night. The support was strong with a crowd of 70 including chief executives Millard "Mickey" Drexler of J. Crew Group, Richard Crystal of New York & Co., Haim Dabah of Regatta Pacific Alliance, Bud Konheim of Nicole Miller and Charles Jayson of Andrew Marc. Also attending were Ken Seiff, founder and former head of Bluefly; Abbey Doneger, president of The Doneger Group, and Jerry Levin, chairman of Sharper Image and incoming chairman of the board of the UJA-Federation of N.Y.

"The UJA is a unique organization that takes care of everybody in the community," said Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc.

Ambassador Dan Gillerman, permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations, addressed the audience, stating, "Israel is still licking its wounds with the brutal and bloody war last summer," which tore through Lebanon where Israel sought to quell Hezbollah rocket attacks and retaliated after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under pressure to resign following criticism of the invasion by a government-appointed commission.

"The country is in the process of remorse, recrimination and soul searching," the ambassador said. "Israel is always perceived as involved in conflict and nothing else."

He encouraged those who haven't visited Israel to do so. He characterized Tel Aviv as teeming with young people at night, and the country overall as "a very fashionable place, though less formal and more casual than most countries….The retail industry is very well developed. We have beautiful malls, and many foreign and international brands," he said, citing Polo, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani, Prada, Gucci and Façonnable. "Many, many brands are there. Israel is ready for more American brands. Brands selling in Israel do very well. Israelis like to shop. Israelis like to spend and Israelis like to dress well."

He also said the nation is eager to make peace with all Arab countries and the Palestinians. But he warned against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East."What worries me is the eerie sounds of silence," the ambassador said. "Muslims are killing Muslims but not a single Arab leader is saying, 'Enough.' When Muslims kill Muslims, nobody cares," he lamented.

But there's hope for the region. "Israel will come out of its problems stronger and better," although he acknowledged that currently, "Israel is in one of its most difficult moments."

The UJA helps feed the hungry, care for the sick and find jobs for the unemployed as part of its range of services offered to Jews and non-Jews around the world. In the New York metropolitan area, the UJA-Federation network includes more than 100 organizations ranging from human service agencies to Ys, community centers, camps and education and health facilities.

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