Thousands rally for freedom of kidnapped Israelis

Thousands rally for freedom of kidnapped Israelis

On Monday, thousands of protesters made it clear that they have not forgotten the plight of kidnapped Israeli soldiers Gil Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev.

Last year, a rally was held to pressure the U.N. to do everything in its power to release them. One year later, the soldiers are still in captivity.

Many young people from several overnight summer camps, including these Union for Reform Judaism campers, added enthusiasm to Monday’s rally at the U.N. to free the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Justin Sulsky/JTA

"We miss Udi, Gilad, and Eldad," said Karnit Goldwasser, wife of Ehud Goldwasser. "All we know is that Gilad is alive. But that is it."

Despite the passage of time and the fact that many people are on vacation this time of year, the massive crowd in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza proved that the soldiers are very much on people’s minds.

"I never know what’s going to happen," said John Shapiro, president of the UJA Federation of New York. "But it was great to arrive here and have to push through this big crowd."

Program coordinators estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people attended Monday’s rally, including protesters of all ages. Twenty buses were sent from Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform summer camps in the region.

Ruth Siev, special projects coordinator for the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said she was pleased with the number of people the local group was able to bring.

"We felt it was very important to have representation. We weren’t going to have a bus, but then lots of people asked us, so we decided to [do it]. We encouraged most people to go on their own, but we wanted to make it easy for people to attend," she said.

On the bus ride there, shaliach David Hyman stressed the importance of truly understanding the situation, and discussed why the phrase "three kidnapped soldiers" is not accurate.

"There are five or six soldiers missing. There’s more than just three," Hyman said. "They were on duty in Israel, defending their land when they were abducted. That can hardly be called ‘kidnapped.’"

Hyman also explained that the word "’soldiers’ is … incorrect. Two out of the three were reservists," he said. "On the last day of their duty, this incident happened. They are only soldiers 30 days. The rest of the year, they are civilians."

According to Hyman, every action taken to help free the soldiers is important.

"Writing letters to people in Congress, in the Senate, to other officials, and signing petitions — it [all] helps put pressure," he said, adding that "visiting Israel is also important."

That sense of importance was not lost on even the youngest participants.

"It’s about the three Israeli soldiers. It’s important," said six-year-old Paramus resident Jonathan Nitti, who attended the rally with his father, Warren Nitti. Jonathan recently attended his first Israel Day Parade. "I don’t know what to expect," he added.

"I know it’s important to be there," said 1′-year-old Rachel Olshin of Teaneck, who was there with her mother, Sara Olshin. "In school [at Yavneh Academy] we pray for the soldiers who are captive, but our school isn’t always so efficient in talking about it. But they do mention it, which is good."

"I grew up going to rallies and Solidarity Sunday," said Sara Olshin. "This is what’s done, you need to pull together and put pressure on the government. There’s no better way to show that than numbers. I wanted her [my daughter] to see that."

While her mother felt that the rally was smaller than some of the huge rallies she has attended, Rachel still felt it was important for them to have attended.

Dick and Estelle Harris of Teaneck were impressed by the wide array of speakers.

"I thought it was very well organized. I liked the vast spectrum of speakers from different ethnic groups," said Mr. Harris. "It was good to let the Jewish community know that they care and for us to let them know that we appreciate it."

"There were representatives from the Hispanic community, Turkish-Americans, and African-Americans," added Mrs. Harris. "Everyone was united in accusing the U.N."

The rally was held on Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the Nine Days, a period in Jewish history in which several tragedies occurred and which culminates on Tisha B’Av.

"As we all know, these are days of reflection," said Aryeh Mekel, Counsel General of Israel in New York. "This is not only for Jews, but for all of the international community to reflect on what they have not done to free the soldiers."

"It was very appropriate [for the rally] to be on Rosh Chodesh Av," said Mrs. Harris, who has been to several rallies over the years. "The Temples were destroyed because of causeless hatred. The way to get redemption and security is to have unity among the Jews, to bring about unconditional love."

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