JNF-USA Westchester & Southern CT Board Chairs Brenda & Michael Benn; Gail Simmons (Photo Credit: Perry Bindelglass)

Honorees Dr. Norman and Bonnie Weiss (Photo Credit: Perry Bindelglass)

“Top Chef” Celeb Gail Simmons Headlines Westchester Event Supporting Israel

Celebrity chef, culinary expert, cookbook author, and TV personality Gail Simmons, perhaps best known for her role as a judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning series Top Chef, was the keynote speaker at Jewish National Fund-USA’s 11th annual Water & Wine Reception in Westchester on April 9, honoring local philanthropists Bonnie & Dr. Norman Weiss. 

For over 15 years, the Weiss family has contributed significantly to Jewish National Fund-USA’s Central Negev Task Force and the organization’s Westchester Board of Directors. The couple’s charitable giving, vision, and motivation played an integral role in the realization of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Skate Park & Water Park in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, located deep in the heart of Israel’s Negev Desert.

The event, held at Westchester Reform Temple and co-chaired by Caren & Hillel Hammerman and Becky & Aaron Kuperman, also offered more than 200 philanthropists the opportunity to unite in solidarity with the people of Israel and learn how they can make a difference in the lives of Israelis impacted by the October 7 atrocities. 

Attendees observed a moment of silence for the victims of the massacre and said prayers for the immediate return of the hostages. Ada Pasternak, an award-winning musician whose music has been featured on Netflix and has been streamed by millions on YouTube and Spotify, also performed her original ballad, “100 Days,” a song about bringing home beloved Israelis who are being held captive by Hamas. 

“On October 7, we witnessed barbarity and evil unleashed on our People, but we’ve never been prouder to be Jews and to belong to this community,” said Co-presidents of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Westchester and Southern CT Board of Directors, Brenda & Mike Benn. “Jewish National Fund-USA was with the people of the Israel Envelope communities before that infamous day. We have stood with them shoulder to shoulder since then, and we are determined to build a brighter future for tomorrow. Our promise remains unbroken; we will do all we can to pave the way for their care today and return home in the days ahead. We will walk with them every step of the way.”

Local ambassadors (lay leaders) highlighted how Jewish National Fund-USA has raised over $60 million in emergency aid since the “Black Shabbat” and has supported the evacuation and relocation of tens of thousands of residents in Israel’s South while providing thousands more with housing, food, clothing, and other supplies. 

Attendees also learned about Jewish National Fund-USA’s Livnot B’Yachad – Build Together plan, a comprehensive strategic initiative to rebuild Israeli communities on the border with Gaza and provide the infrastructure and quality of life needed to allow residents to feel safe coming home.

“In the face of this adversity, something extraordinary has happened: The Jewish People have become more united than ever,” said Jewish National Fund-USA Director, Westchester & Southern CT, Samara Rader. “We have rallied together and are standing shoulder to shoulder; supporting each other and our family in the Jewish Homeland. We will rebuild, repaint, replant, and restore these communities to a new level of glory.”

In her keynote address, Simmons spoke about her personal journey to becoming a famous chef and TV judge on the #1 rated food show on cable television while highlighting her connection to Israel and commitment to Zionism. She also autographed cookbooks and participated in a “meet and greet” with Jewish National Fund-USA Donor Society members at the event’s exclusive VIP reception while guests sampled Simmons’ appetizer and cocktail recipes from her new cookbook, Bringing It Home. 

For more information or to learn about future events, email Samara Rader, Director, Westchester & Southern CT at or call her at  212-879-9300, ext.510.

Jewish National Fund-USA builds a strong, vibrant future for the land and people of Israel through bold initiatives and Zionist education. As a leading philanthropic movement, the organization supports critical environmental and nation-building activities in Israel’s north and south as it develops new communities in the Negev and Galilee, connects the next generation to Israel, and creates infrastructure and programs that support ecology, people with disabilities, and heritage site preservation, all while running a fully accredited study abroad experience through its Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Visit to learn more.