Rallies send ‘clear message to Hamas’

Rallies send ‘clear message to Hamas’

Thousands wore red hats at a New York rally on Sunday to symbolize Israel’s red alert. Josh LIPowsky

Our message to Hamas is very clear,” Israel’s Consul General Asaf Shariv said Sunday at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. “No more rockets. No more red alert. No more terrorism against our citizens.”

Shariv spoke before a 1,000-strong crowd at a rally organized by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in support of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Shariv reported that earlier in the day a Grad missile had hit an empty kindergarten in the city of Ashdod. He thanked attendees for their support and said that the Israeli people are “strong and determined” and support the government’s actions.

Israeli Consel General Asaf Shariv thanked the thousand-plus supporters at UJA-NNJ’s rally on Sunday. Josh LIPowsky

“They understand we have waited for eight years,” he said, of the period Israel did not respond to rockets rained down from Gaza. “Now it is time to give [Israelis] back their normal lives.”

By contrast, Hamas shows little care for civilians on either side of the conflict, Shariv said.

“We are spending our money and energy in protecting our citizens,” he said. “They are spending their money building tunnels [for smuggling weapons].”

The rally included a video update by Ofer Lichtig, UJA-NNJ’s community representative in Israel; day school students reading letters from Israel; and performances by the HaZamir Choir of Bergen County led by Cantor Leon Sher of Barnert Temple. Elected officials from this area also voiced their support for Israel’s actions, drawing standing ovations from the crowd.

“The value of Israel the Jewish state to the United States is enormous,” Rep. Steve Rothman said.

If Israel did not exist, Rothman continued, the United States would need to spend more than $100 billion to station troops in the region, he said, in addition to billions lost from Israeli innovations sold to the U.S. market. For every dollar sent to Israel, the United States gets between $100 and $150 back, he added, calling Israel America’s “most important strategic partner” in the Middle East.

“Under every notion of international law Israel has the right to fire back,” Rothman said. “International law is not a suicide pact.”

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner holds up a Kassam rocket during Sunday’s rally at the JCC. Josh LIPowsky

Speakers throughout the rally blamed Hamas for the violence and the continued suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Hamas actions exhibit willful disrespect for human life,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5). “It is shameful their use of Palestinian victims as human shields…. Hamas has taken Gaza hostage.”

Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly led participants in a prayer for the injured, Jewish and Arab alike.

“We certainly have a lot of compassion for the Palestinians who have been hurt, but this is a just war,” he told the Standard after the rally.

Amy Albalah of Haworth said, “If we show other people in our community we’re here, it’ll have a snowball effect. All the communities are coming together. It’s inspiring.”

Rep. Steve Rothman said international law guarantees Israel’s right to self defense. Josh LIPowsky

Earlier Sunday, about 5,000 people lined up outside the Israeli consulate in New York for a rally organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of New York. Red hats symbolizing the tzeva adom, the red alert siren warning of incoming rockets, were distributed among the participants, who waved them throughout the rally.

New York’s Gov. David Patterson addressed the crowd, saying that the rally’s purpose was the “preservation of peace.”

“Hate has no place in the Empire State,” he said. “Where hate exists, we will try to remove it. Where rockets are fired, we will try to stop it.”

What is happening in Gaza is not a war between Jews and Palestinians, said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), but “a war between terrorists and the rest of the world.”

Led by a number of New York state and city officials, the vast crowd frequently burst into chants of “Stop Hamas,” “Israel yes, Hamas no,” and “Stop the rockets now.”

The rallies were just some of the ways in which area residents have been reaching out to Israel.

During the summer months, several Israeli youths who live in areas affected by the fighting traveled to Bergen County for respite through Project Open Hearts, Open Homes. On Jan. 7, families who have hosted Israeli visitors gathered at the YJCC in Washington Township, which organizes the program, for an update from Israel. Herb Levine, the program’s Israeli coordinator, arranged a conference call with two Israeli children who spent three weeks in New Jersey this summer.

“Open Hearts showed me that there is another life … a life without bombs; it’s not just like I live,” Rahel, a 15-year-old resident of Sderot, said over the phone.

“The children have lots of problems that will go on for years,” said Miri Timzeet, regional supervisor for the Israeli Ministry of Education, who was also on the call. “Sometimes we think that the world has forgotten these children. They return [from New Jersey] with self-confidence. They have hope not only for themselves, but for the other children.”

Students at Yeshivat Noam packed “care package” for Israeli soldiers on Tuesday. photo courtesy of Yeshivat Noam

On Tuesday, students at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus prepared “care packages” to be sent to Israeli soldiers. The school’s annual mission to Israel was scheduled to leave on Wednesday.

Karnit Goldwasser, the widow of slain IDF soldier Ehud Goldwasser, was scheduled to visit the area on Thursday to speak at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford and Temple Emanu-El in Closter.

Area representatives and senators joined close-to-unanimous congressional resolutions last week supporting Israel and condemning Hamas. A bill in the House “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza” passed 390 to 5, while the Senate version passed unanimously.

In addition to reiterating Israel’s right to exist, the resolutions recognized Israel’s delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip, citing 500 truckloads of food and medcine since Dec. 26. The resolutions go on to call for a viable ceasefire that blocks Hamas from rearming; the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has held for two years; and for the president to continue pushing for a two-state solution.

“No country should be forced to tolerate attacks on its people,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said in a statement sent to the Standard. “Israel is doing all it can to prevent future terror attacks, and the United States supports the Israeli government’s efforts to protect its citizens. Hamas is abusing the people of Gaza by using their homes as a base for terror operations. The world should no longer tolerate a terrorist government in the Gaza Strip.”

In a statement sent to this paper last week, Rep. Scott Garrett called upon President-elect Barack Obama to take a stand in favor of Israel’s right to self-defense. He praised Obama for his concern for the residents of Sderot, but called for quick, decisive action once the president-elect is sworn in.

“In light of the escalating violence, I now encourage him to take a strong stance in support of our ally, Israel, and their response to Hamas’s terrorist attacks,” he said. “Israel is justified in its efforts to protect its citizens from violent missile attacks.”

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