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swiss shabbat

Inside Shabbat dinner at Davos 2024

This year’s dinner will spotlight the hostages and families of those still held captive in Gaza

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Residential buildings stand illuminated on the town skyline ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

For more than two decades, Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz has brought together leading Jewish and non-Jewish figures at an annual Shabbat dinner held at the conclusion of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

This year, Berkowitz told Jewish Insider, the 200-person dinner is “completely different” and comes during “an elevated state of need and support for Israel and the Jewish people.”

Despite some of the anti-Israel rhetoric espoused by leaders on the main stage, including Iran’s foreign minister as well as Colombian President Gustavo Petro, “in the public conversations… I didn’t encounter any hatred, or indifference even,” Berkowitz said. “People were engaging. That’s what I found. So this maybe is a reflection of people in leadership taking a more nuanced approach of respecting the issue.”

“Every minute is a very critical conversation” with “supporters and unlikely friends,” he continued, as well as “those that have been critical of Israel.” Berkowitz told JI that he’d received a number of requests to attend the dinner from non-Jewish Davos attendees — including a number of attendees from the Muslim world. “This is their way of showing solidarity to people in Israel,” Berkowitz said. 

Stuart Eizenstat, the former U.S. ambassador to the E.U. and deputy Treasury secretary, will give the evening’s d’var Torah, which he has done every year since the death of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

Also slated to speak at the Shabbat dinner are former Israeli hostages who have returned from captivity, as well as the families of some of the remaining hostages.

In addition to planning the dinner, Berkowitz worked closely with the hostage families as they met with top officials in Davos. He said that Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose 23-year-old son Hersh was taken captive on Oct. 7, has become “a voice of conscience for all the hostage families.”

“I saw her move mountains of people that otherwise would not take action and do something,” Berkowitz said. “Because they met her and they connected to her, I know that she’s changed many people, engaged them in a very deep way.”

Berkowitz said he has been “very touched by the outpouring of solidarity” he’s experienced this week. “For people who I’ve known over the years, maybe not some very well, but that didn’t have to go out of their way to approach me and tell me how sorry they are, how they stand with us, stand with Israel and Jewish people.”

Some, he said, wore metal dog tags at the summit calling for the hostages’ release. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales was spotted wearing the dog tag on the first day of the gathering.

Palantir CEO Alex Karp, Berkowitz said, is “a real Jewish hero.” Karp hosted an event on the sidelines of the conference featuring the families of hostages as well as two hostages who were freed from Hamas captivity in November. Karp, Berkowitz said, “really made [the hostage situation] a very prominent issue.”

Despite the heightened attention on the situation in the Middle East, Berkowitz, who met with the parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia since last year, noted that there are “other hot issues in the world that we as a Jewish people, it’s important that we take a stand for justice and for values and morality, and finding ways to make peace.”

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