It was a fine day for a rally.
The sun was shining, the vaccinations had taken hold, and a mostly unmasked crowd of 2,000 people gathered in Tenafly’s Roosevelt Common park, opposite the police department, with a soundtrack of the music of Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi playing in the background.
The rally had been organized by the New Jersey chapter of the Israeli American Council — the national organization had set up rallies across the country — along with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations.
Orly Chen, a board member of the Israeli American Council and the JCC, spoke first.
“This rally is about coexistence for which we promote tolerance and not ignorance, compassion and not indifference, love and not hate, the ability for all people to live side by side with mutual respect,” she said. “This rally is not about war, it is not about politics and it is not just about Israelis and Palestinians. We have had rallies supporting our black communities, our Asian communities and now we seek the same support for our Jewish community.”
She spoke about “a growing fear” of wearing a kippah or a star of David in public in the wake of anti-Semitic attacks across the United States.
Nonetheless, she said, “We will not allow fear to cripple us or delegitimize our right to exist. The Jewish population may be small in this world, but we are powerful and courageous when we are together. We will not be afraid to defend ourselves and to stand for what’s right.
“We may have differing political opinions. We may have different approaches to what we believe is a just solution in the Middle East. But what we must agree on is that we cannot allow terrorist organizations to manipulate us, using fear and aggression to threaten our bedrock of democracy and our basic right to exist. We are here to say no more to hate. We are here to say no to terrorism.”
Itay Milner, consul for media affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York, told the rally that “While Israel was attacked by thousands of rockets, we were attacked here by thousands of lies.
“Against the lies we have you,” he told the rally-goers. “You are our Iron Dome.” Fighting the lies “is where the battle is. This is all in your hands. An attack on Israel is an attack on the Jewish people,” he said.
Steven Rogers, chair of the Kaplen JCC, also spoke. “We continue to stand shoulder in shoulder in solidarity,” he said. “We are one nation, irrespective of where we choose to make our homes. Terrorist attacks on Israel are attacks on the entire Jewish people. An attack on any of us anywhere is an attack on all of us everywhere.
“Am Yisrael chai!” he concluded.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter said, “The past two weeks have been painful for Zionists and Jews across the globe. Once again, we are reminded how lightly anti-Semitism sleeps.
“Last summer, I was proud to march for racial equality with my black brothers and sisters. I will continue to march with them until our country becomes a better place for all peoples. I will continue to use my pulpit to speak out against any form of anti-Asian hate in our community. I will not sit idly by when people are discriminated against for their sexual orientation or their gender.
“Likewise, I will not stay still or quiet while Israel is being bombarded with rockets! I ask my Asian neighbors, my black brothers and sisters, my gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender family to march with me arm in arm against terrorism and hatred.”
“I cry for infants in Gaza who do not have milk to drink,” he continued. “And I am mad at Hamas for investing money in a labyrinth of terror tunnels, financing rockets and rocket launchers, purchasing guns and grenades all while allowing their children to go hungry.
“I am heartbroken for young Palestinian children who are used as human shields and played as pawns in a war of terror against Israel. Yet I feel immense pride that Israel chooses to shield their children, and invest in shelters, and ensures an iron dome to keep their citizens safe.”
There is “a second conflict that has crossed the borders to London on Snapchat, Chicago on Facebook and to New York on Instagram,” Rabbi Kirshner added. “For this battle, we are all deputized as soldiers on the front lines. We have to fight lies, falsehood, and untruths with facts every time we see them on social media. When print news or cable television slants a story, we must write them and tell them they are wrong and unbalanced and share the evidence and truth. When a very few elected officials protect the Palestinians but find Jewish lives expendable, call their offices, write letters, and lobby them by saying loudly and clearly, Jewish lives matter and Israeli lives matter!
“We must fight this confrontation with facts, passion, and unwavering commitment that allows the space for us to be proudly and fiercely liberal, pro-Israel and pro-peace, with no apologies or explanations,” he concluded.
Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly spoke as well. “The Jewish people remains strong and united in its ultimate goal, the pursuit of peace,” he said. “May God bless our people and all peoples with shalom — with peace.”
Roman Shmulenson, head of the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations, spoke on behalf of the “the Russian-speaking American Jewish community — a community where in every family someone perished in the Holocaust, in every family someone fought the Nazis during World War II.
“We are a community that escaped official and street anti-Semitism. We are also proud American citizens blessed to be in the country where we can be Jewish and not afraid to stand up for what is right.
“So when we say ‘Never again!’, we mean ‘Never again!’ God bless America, God bless the State of Israel. Am Yisrael chai!”
Yarden Efraim, 21, grew up in Washington Township; then he moved to Israel and enlisted in the Israeli army. He told the rally about his time in the IDF — and the disconnect he felt when he found himself back in America after his service during the latest fighting.
“My close friends here in Bergen County were passing on social media things that weren’t necessarily true,” he said. “I can say wholeheartedly that we are not targeting civilians and committing atrocities,” he said.
Daniel Shlufman is chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation. “There is no moral equivalence in the war between Hamas and Israel. None at all,” he said. “Israel protects its people. Hamas uses money from international aid to build terror tunnels.”
Jason Shames, the federation’s CEO, said that “There is no moral equivalency between a terrorist organization that seeks destruction and a democracy that seeks justice.
“Our enemies are actively instigating and conducting acts of violence against the Jewish people and not just in Israel, but in London, Montreal, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere. Yet this is not the only concern we have. While we are fortunate in America to have a legal system and law enforcement that consistently supports and protects us, we sadly have a mainstream and social media apparatus that maligns this view.
“Jews in Israel and elsewhere are caught in a war on two fronts. The obvious war is protecting the Jewish people from their enemies, and that largely falls on the IDF and law enforcement.
“The second war is much harder to grasp, and although the enemy may not be as obvious, the destruction is great. I’m referring to the war of public opinion due to media bias. There are many pro-Israel voices in Congress, including our very own Josh Gottheimer, Ted Deutch from Florida, and many more. But the media doesn’t focus on them. The media seems to be obsessed with this small, small group of progressive elected officials with anti-Semitic sentiments. Based on the reporting, you would think this is the majority view of Congress — but it’s not!
“If that weren’t enough, as violence against Jews raged, it took several days for the media to pay attention and finally post stories about violence against Jews. Let’s not miss the point that it is Palestinians and their new co-opted partners who are harassing and violently attacking Jews. Not the other way around. In legal terms, what our brothers and sisters are experiencing on the streets of American cities are unequivocally hate crimes.
“So, while this round of battle has come to a conclusion, an ongoing challenge to us remains. Many people ask me — what can I do?
“What you can do is not idly stand by, be active, post on your social media accounts, contact editors and demand that your elected officials take note. Israel will not be defeated by its enemies — whether those enemies are terrorists or the bias of the media.
“There is one additional way you can help Israel and that’s through philanthropy — making a donation. The damage and mental scars Israel has suffered is real and has a cost. Make a difference by donating to the Israel Emergency Fund. One hundred percent of the funds will be forwarded to Israel to physically and mentally rebuild our Jewish family,” he said, noting that he and the federation’s president, Lee Lasher, were flying to Israel this week to see the damage caused by Hamas attacks for themselves.
“Am Yisrael chai!” Mr. Shames concluded.
When the speakers were finished, and as the crowd began to leave, Hebrew music began to play again. This time, it was little more energetic. Some people began to dance.
It was a beautiful day for a rally.