Vanessa Redgrave wows audience at UNRWA benefit performance

29 October 2009

29 October 2009

New York City

Almost 1,300 New Yorkers crowded into the St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan on Monday night to watch a mesmerising reprise by Vanessa Redgrave of her Broadway hit play, "The Year of Magical Thinking." The evening was a benefit event put on by the famous British actor for UNRWA and UNICEF. Its purpose was to raise funds for children in Gaza and neighbouring parts of Israel who have suffered from the violence of the past year.

Originally scheduled for May, the event was postponed following the death of Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter, Natasha Richardson, herself a celebrated actor, in a skiing accident. As the play is a two-hour monologue on how a woman writer copes with the sudden deaths of her husband and daughter, those present in the cathedral were transfixed by the eerie parallels.

Among the many actors in the audience were Meryl Streep and Harvey Keitel. Sir David Hare, the British theatre director and playwright, directed the production. All the many people and organisations involved in making the evening a big success for UNRWA – reaching out to the general public in the United States in a way that has not been possible before – gave their services for free.

The Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd, was in New York especially for the event, which was also attended by the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations and the Consul-General of Israel in New York.

Before the play began, the audience heard a performance by a string quartet from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a company of Israeli and Palestinian musicians set up by the late Edward Said, the distinguished Palestinian academic, and the conductor David Barenboim. Later, the Dean of the Cathedral – New York’s largest – and the Anglican Bishop of New York hosted a reception for VIP guests.

American Friends of UNRWA and the Agency’s New York Representative Office worked closely with the other organisers for many months to make the evening a success. Altogether the event raised over $150,000. Proceeds will be split between UNRWA and UNICEF.

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 100 million.

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