Jewish community bands together as Israel pushes forward in Gaza

Jewish community bands together as Israel pushes forward in Gaza

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey is gearing up for a massive community rally on Sunday in support of Israel’s fight against Hamas. Thousands are expected to attend the event at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, which will feature Israel’s Consul General Asaf Shariv as the keynote speaker.

Last week was marked by worldwide protests against the Jewish state, which drew crowds ranging from a few dozen to 2,000. (See Protests flare in Europe.) The Jewish community has scheduled several rallies around the region as well as otherwise supporting the Jewish state. (See Locals gather to support Israel and Shul raises funds for care packages to soldiers.)
Before the rally at 6 Sunday evening, UJA-NNJ’s Israel shaliach, Stuart Levy, will address a forum at Temple Israel & Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood. That forum and the later rally will address three issues, Levy said: What has happened up to now, what can happen, and how the American Jewish community can help.

From buying Israeli goods to writing to government officials, there is a range of things Americans can do to show support, Levy said.

“It doesn’t stop on Sunday,” he said. “There will be ongoing support, encouragement to pick up the phone, to write letters to soldiers….”

During 2006’s Second Lebanon War, the federation raised money for northern Israeli communities through its Israel Emergency Campaign. UJA-NNJ’s president, Alan Scharfstein, told the Standard that the organization is in touch with its partners in Israel to find out what current needs are.

“Once we have a little more clarity on that we’re going to be prepared to address [those needs],” he said.

The federation has opened a mailbox at its offices for donations. And on Sunday the organization will ask for donations to the Kids For Safety Fund, which removes children from danger zones at a cost of $53 per child per day. The federation plans to ask people to sponsor one or more children, Scharfstein said.

Scharfstein, who visited Sderot last year, said, “You could see how intolerable the situation was then – just watching the little kids in the nursery schools who had to play in bomb shelters because they couldn’t respond fast enough to the 15-second warning.”

Hundreds gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate in New York on Tuesday for a rally spearheaded by Amcha, the Zionist Organization of America, and a handful of other organizations. It was one of the first largely visible public signs of support for the Gaza incursion since the fighting began two weeks ago.

Organizers said early police estimates put attendance at the rally around 7,500 people. One officer, who gave his personal estimate, said the rally, which overflowed onto two blocks, drew 300 to 400 people.

Benjamin Krasna, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York and a Teaneck resident, thanked attendees for their support. “Just one week ago I was sitting upstairs listening to voices calling for intifada,” he said, referring to a pro-Palestinian rally outside the consulate last week. “You are here because you agree we are just.”

Krasna rejected the idea that Israel is overreacting to Hamas attacks and drew a distinction between Hamas’ and Israeli targets. “This is the government of the State of Israel doing what any government would do,” he said. “We are fighting terrorists. We are not fighting the Palestinian people. We value human life.”

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told the Standard that these rallies not only demonstrate support to Israelis, but also to U.S. leaders.

“It sends a message to Congress and other political leaders that supporters of Israel are strong,” he said. “They’re speaking out in support of Israel’s efforts.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Standard on Monday that the Conference is encouraging “as many events as possible” through local organizations. Reached on his cell phone as he was on his way back from an emergency trip to Israel, Hoenlein said there were no plans as of yet to sponsor a major rally. As of Tuesday, plans were in motion for a rally in front of the Israeli Consulate on Sunday, co-sponsored by, among others, the Presidents Conference, AIPAC, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

In addition, JCPA designated Jan. 8 as National Day of Solidarity with Israel. According to the organization’s count as of Tuesday, 19 rallies had been scheduled across the country this week.

The Israeli government is “very pleased by the support from America and the American Jewish community,” Hoenlein said.

Ofer Lichtig, UJA-NNJ’s community representative in Israel, told the Standard by phone Wednesday morning that American support has not gone unnoticed in Israel.

“People here, especially under fire, are really touched, moved, and appreciate that the community is standing on their side,” he said.

Lichtig had just returned from a trip to Sderot. He reported that the mood in the rocket-weary town is positive because of the government’s decision to respond after several years of rocket attacks on southern Israel. Many citizens in Sderot previously felt abandoned by the government and wish that it would do something – anything – in response to the rockets, he said. (See also page 22.)

“At last the government came to their rescue and is doing something about it,” Lichtig said, relaying the general consensus in the south. “They really hope whatever solution there will be now, this will be the last time they suffer from the rockets for a long time.”

While there is no consensus among the Israeli public on what the end result of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead should be – toppling Hamas, reaching a ceasefire, and reoccupation of Gaza are among the possibilities – there is broad support for action, Lichtig said. “Everybody really feels like there was no choice. Enough was enough and Israel had to do something about it.”

Weighing in on behalf of New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine issued a statement last week on the fighting.

“The current crisis in Israel and Gaza reflects a fundamental truth: Violence begets violence,” he said. “[A]ll countries around the world have the absolute right and the responsibility to defend themselves against attacks on their people and their sovereignty. Israel has justly asserted that right and responsibility, as any country would, in the face of consistent and recently increased destructive rocket bombardments against its territory and its citizens by Hamas.”

Corzine joined other world leaders in mourning the loss of innocent life on both sides and called for humanitarian aid to flow unrestricted into the coastal strip.

“I hope all parties respond to the urgent needs of the civilian population, and applaud Israel’s decision to open the borders for the life-saving work of United Nations agencies, the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations.”

For more information on Sunday’s rally at the JCC, call (201) 820-3900. For more information on the Ridgewood talk, call (201) 444-9320. For more information about the rally in New York, call (212) 983-4800, ext. 158.

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