June 11, 2024
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Ava Cohen, 14, Shuts Down Pro-Palestinian Protest on Upper East Side

Ava Cohen and James Dayan.

On the evening of May 13, Kenny Cohen was driving home with his daughter Ava, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Ramaz, when they spotted a pro-Palestinian protest taking place at 89th Street and Park Avenue. The location of the Upper East Side protest was apparently the home of the chair of the board of trustees of the New School which, as with many other universities across the country, has seen its share of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In a scene which has become all too familiar, the protesters marched to shouts of “Free Palestine,” many wearing keffiyehs and covering their faces with surgical masks.

Ava got out of the car, started videotaping the crowd, and immediately said: “We should not let this happen in our own neighborhood!” Upon receiving her father’s approval (which did not come without hesitation), Ava posted the videos on her social media account and called on her friends to join her in a counter-protest.

After making a brief detour to retrieve her Nova sweatshirt from home, Ava and her father made their way back to the protest where they were joined by Ava’s friends, some of Kenny’s friends, and others who had been watching the protest from the sidelines.

And just like that, a 14-year-old girl created a counter-protest complete with Israeli and American flags, songs of Am Yisrael Chai and Hatikva, and, most importantly, determination.

In one notable recorded exchange which as of press time had nearly 50,000 views on various social media accounts, Ava and her friend, 14-year-old James Dayan, together approached two protesters hiding their identities, one of whom was holding a sign reading: “We will not be bullied,” and the other a large sign stating “Listen to your Students, Not Your Donors.”

James fearlessly questioned the protestor, “Why are you hiding yourself?” Ava, clenching her Nova sweatshirt in her hands, confronted the protestors asking: “Do you know what this sweatshirt is?” Receiving no response, Ava cried out: “You killed 400 Jews in one day!”

Ultimately, Ava and her fellow counter-protestors literally drove the protestors away. Speaking to The Jewish Link, Ava’s mother Suri stated: “We are so proud of Ava and want her to continue this type of leadership throughout her life.”

Asked by The Jewish Link what she thought compelled Ava to organize the counter-protest, Suri explained that she, Kenny, Ava and their older daughter Grace who is graduating from Ramaz, were in Israel on Oct. 7. “We were in a lot of bomb shelters on Oct. 7 and Ava was very scared.”

Although Ava was nervous to return to Israel, their family went on a mission in January where they visited places such as Kibbutz Be’eri and Ichilov Hospital, and also spent time with evacuees.

Explained Suri, “These kids have been feeling so powerless and anxious about Israel. But when I spoke to Ava after the protest, the experience seemed tremendously therapeutic. I think knowing that there are kids fighting in Israel, it was the least she could do to talk out against these protestors.”

Rabbi Chaim Hagler, assistant head of Ramaz Middle School, remarked about Ava: “She is a girl who has shown tremendous growth in her time in middle school. She is a true leader. She’s taken what Ramaz has taught her and what she has learned from home and put it into action.

“We tell our students that we cannot be afraid. It’s not the time.”

Judith Falk is the creator of the Upper West Side Shtetl Facebook group. You can follow her on instagram @upperwestsideshtetl. She is a lawyer by day and a former legal reporter.

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