Tuesday was one of the worst days imaginable for a political protest: As Rabbi Ronald Price, executive vice president of the Teaneck-based Union for Traditional Judaism and religious leader of Cong. Netivot Shalom in Teaneck put it in an e-mail to The Jewish Standard, "As the organizers of the demonstration met the night before, we had no way of knowing that a madman in Virginia would commit an atrocity that would rend the hearts and souls of our nation."
But while the protest a march by more than 75 rabbis and rabbinical students from the Iranian Mission to the United Nations to the U.N.’s Isaiah Wall went on as planned, it began with memorial prayers for the 3′ students gunned down by one of their own at Virginia Tech. (See page 8.)
The intent of the march, and the planned arrest of a number of participants, was to draw attention, in Rabbi Neal Borovitz’s words, to the Iranian "call for the annihilation of Israel and the threat of their developing nuclear weapons by which they could implement that call."
The protest, said Borovitz, of Temple Sholom in River Edge, was convened largely by Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, N.Y., and "under the umbrella of the Interdenominational Coalition of Rabbis, an ad hoc organization created in ‘001 in response to the second intifada." It’s a group, he added, "I am proud to be part of [made up of] Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, UTJ, and Renewal rabbis." Borovitz is Reform. "We had planned this," he noted, "for Holocaust Remembrance Week, and we are all committed to keeping the issue of Iranian-sponsored terrorism in the public eye and on the agenda of the world."
Borovitz and Price were among five local rabbis from across the Jewish spectrum at the protest, and Price was one of the ” who were arrested.
The other was Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of Kehillat Kesher in Englewood. To "qualify" for arrest, the rabbis sat on the steps by the Isaiah Wall. Some rabbis chose to remain standing, because of pending duties, Borovitz said.
Fox, who is Orthodox, noted that the "formal [cause of the] arrests was for blocking pedestrian traffic. It kind of makes the point," he said, "that it can’t be business as usual, that the threat Iran poses to Israel is very real, and not only to Israel but also, ultimately, to the United States."
Now, Fox said, there should be a "march on Washington and to see where we can go from there in the Jewish and the non-Jewish community to wake up the rest of the world."
The police, he said, "were very respectful and central booking a formality. The most intense part is when they stand in front with a bullhorn and say if you don’t stand up you’ll be arrested. You put your hands behind your back and [someone puts] plastic handcuffs on you." Then the rabbis were taken away in paddy wagons and kept in one big cell from about noon until 7 p.m.
Rabbi Randall Mark of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne, who is Conservative, stressed the connection between Yom HaShoah "and what’s going on with Iran right now . Here’s someone [Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] who’s a Hitler-like figure and who has an oppressive regime and who’s making threats not just to Israel but to the entire Western world, and that’s something we ought to be opposing."
Rabbi Benjamin Shull of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake attended the protest to "raise the level and awareness of the Jewish community to the danger that Israel faces." Shull, who is Conservative, added, "We need to have a more grass-roots, take-it-to-the-streets kind of approach. The Jewish community needs to get off its tuchus and start yelling.
"Israel is in very real danger," he continued, "because of the Iranian efforts to supply and direct Hezbollah and Hamas; they’re being armed and trained by Iranian advisers." In fact, he said, he would call them "branches of the Iranian army they have their own local flavor, but in many ways they are increasingly taking their marching orders from Iran . And then there’s the cataclysmic danger of nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands. I do take Ahmadinejad at his word, that he reflects the desire of the regime to destroy Israel."
"The juxtaposition of the Virginia Tech tragedy and [the rabbis march and] arrest sharpens the urgency of our message," wrote the UTJ’s Price. "The deaths of these 3′ innocents will, I hope, move our nation to action. We will wring our hands and search our collective souls to find a way to prevent another such tragedy from occurring ever again.
"Tragically," he continued, "at the same time we will probably continue to ignore the overt warnings of intended murder on the world stage."