June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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MetroWest Group Mobilizes To Support Israel

MetroWest rally in support of Israel on October 15 in Livingston.

Just one week after the October 7 terror attacks, a rally of 5,000 people gathered at the Livingston Oval to show their support for Israel. Within weeks, lawn signs and hostage posters were plastered across communities in MetroWest, which includes Essex, Morris, Sussex, Union and parts of Somerset Counties in New Jersey.

These concrete responses were just the beginning of a multi-pronged and sustained campaign to stand with Israel and address surging antisemitism, all organized through the MetroWest Israel Action Committee headed by West Orange residents Renee and Moshe Glick and Larry Rein.

“We want to express our disgust and repulsion of the attack, the barbaric atrocities. And what do Jews do in times of trouble? They come together. There’s this idea of ‘Never Again.’ What are we doing to do to make sure that ‘Never Again’ is really never again?” asked Moshe.

“It’s taking a physical and emotional toll on all of us collectively as we consider klal Yisrael our extended family. We are tormented that there are still so many Israelis being held hostage by barbaric terrorists. We are sickened as we hear more details revealed about the October 7 massacre. And we are angered by the rapid rise in antisemitism here in the U.S., incensed by those who actively support Jew-hatred, those who remain silent, and those who are afraid to stand up against hate,” said Renee.

Rein’s first reaction when he heard about the attacks was a feeling of disbelief. “When I heard about it for the first time I was incredulous that something of this magnitude, with all the intel, [could happen]. After Yom Tov, when I could watch the news, the next feeling was ‘What can we do to jump in and help?’”

Rein and the Glicks knew from past experience that effective action requires the commitment and passion of a unified group. “This committee is really made of activist-minded doers who are all passionate about Israel. We work really cohesively as a group,” said Moshe.

The MetroWest Israel Action Committee was created in 2021 to respond to an escalation of hostilities and upsurge in rocket attacks coming from the Gaza Strip. In addition to Rein and the Glicks, the committee included Cindi Dresdner and Chaim Goldman of West Orange and Barbara Listhaus, Howard Blank and Joshua Commer, all of Livingston. Together they had previously organized the Stand Up for Israel rally in Livingston attended by 1,500 Israel supporters; a Stand Up for Israel WhatsApp group numbered 200 members.

When the hostilities receded, the Glicks and Rein continued their activism through the West Orange-Livingston Chesed Committee, which held its inaugural annual dinner in September 2023. After the tremendous effort put into the evening, they were looking forward to an uneventful Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

That all changed on October 7. On October 8, the Glicks and Rein spoke and immediately reactivated the MetroWest Israel Action Committee.

Knowing that the committee already had an infrastructure in place, the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest NJ (Federation) asked them to partner with Federation and take the lead in coordinating what they hoped would be a massive rally at the Livingston Oval. This time, however, there were only four days to get it done. The original committee was reconvened with the Glicks and Rein taking the lead.

Suzanne and Elliot Grossman, who help head the MW Israel Hostage Display Group.

“We knew we needed all hands on deck,” said Rein. The result was an interfaith gathering of 5,000 Israel supporters across the denominational and political spectrum, coverage by media outlets across the tri-state region, and 70 partner organizations.

Following the rally, the committee primarily focused on the hostages being held by Hamas. With Goldman as lead, within weeks 5,000 flyers had been posted throughout MetroWest and 1,000 lawn signs were distributed.

The WhatsApp group ballooned to 1,000 members and a constant stream of new posts and conversations. People wanted—needed—to do something.

“What’s fascinating to me is that people from all parts of MetroWest are jumping in,” said Rein. “We have all the Federation people who are jumping in, shul people, random people from different communities. There are people from all walks of life, affiliated and non-affiliated; it’s truly the entire MetroWest. What I feel is that people just want to be involved and they are doing it through this committee.”

The Glicks and Rein found themselves spending almost every waking moment they were not at their “day jobs” devoted to the MetroWest Israel Action Committee. (Moshe is a dentist in Riverdale, New York; Renee is a public relations professional; and Rein is executive director of Friends of Akim USA, a special needs organization in Israel, and deputy mayor of West Orange.) To maximize the committee’s effectiveness and harness the energy of an increasing number of volunteers, they began rolling out a series of subcommittees to address evolving issues of concern.

“There were so many people who wanted to do things. Part of the challenge is leveraging the talents of the forces we have. It’s time to double down and get things done,” said Moshe.

Rein noted: “The groups are extremely active. It really became too much for me and Renee and Moshe to administer [by ourselves], so we sent out a survey and people selected what area they wanted to be involved with. In that process, we asked people if anyone wanted to be a leader and there were a lot of people who volunteered to be administrators.” (Not every group has an administrator.) Rein and the Glicks still talk about once a week to determine the priority (or priorities) for the week. They then communicate with the administrators or the administrators ask for direction..

“Everyone has a different talent and capacity to help. We’re enabling people to be part of the cause and do something positive,” said Renee. “We have a great crew of people; they’re tenacious,” added Rein.

On the last night of Chanukah, community members gathered on the front lawn of B’nai Shalom in West Orange to light eight candles for the hostages who couldn’t light for themselves. A service was led by Rabbi Robert Tobin, B’nai Shalom; Rabbi Baruch Klar, regional director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County; Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz, Chabad of West Orange; and Rabbi Marc Spivak, Ohr Torah.

The subcommittees include MW College Warriors; MW Israel Hostage Display Group, headed by Goldman and Suzanne and Elliot Grossman of West Orange; MW Mitzvahs for Israel Group, headed by Tova Grossbaum and Dara Orbach of Livingston; MW Self-Defense Group, headed by Tuvia Kimmel of West Orange and Moshe; MW Political Action Group, headed by Rachel Plafker Esrig, Arthur Dumbroff and David Bortniker, all of West Orange; MW Local Elections Group; MW Public School Antisemitic Literature Group; and the MW Video Production Squad. Rein noted that the committee has been contacted by other groups in the tri-state area for materials and information on how to organize their own communities.

The MW Political Action subgroup is charged with keeping consistent pressure on local, state and national politicians who are anti-Israel via letters, emails and calls. Communications occur almost daily or multiple times a day. The MW Public School Antisemitic Literature Group works with schools and boards of education to help bring curricula and programming to public schools to teach accurate history of Israel and facts about the current war. The group also seeks to combat antisemitism in public schools. Members attending township boards of education meetings play a critical role.

The Glicks and Rein noted that since October 7 “many unaffiliated Jews are feeling their Jewish identity like never before. They want to be connected.” Programs such as a large challah bake, a mezuzah-making workshop and a Friday night unity dinner at LifeTown in Livingston, sponsored by the MetroWest Mitzvahs for Israel group, are helping to fulfill that need.

Other communitywide unity programs occurred during Chanukah; in West Orange and Roseland, Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz of Chabad of West Orange lit the townships’ menorahs, while Assistant Rabbi Sara Blumenthal and Education Director Susan Werk of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, together with Kasowitz, led the menorah lighting for the Caldwells.

The focus was on the hostages on the last night of Chanukah. Community members gathered on the front lawn of B’nai Shalom in West Orange to light eight candles for the hostages who couldn’t light for themselves. A service was led by Rabbi Robert Tobin, rabbi of B’nai Shalom; Rabbi Baruch Klar, regional director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County; Kasowitz; and Rabbi Marc Spivak, rabbi of Congregation Ohr Torah. It was spearheaded by Suzanne and Elliot Grossman.

The MW College Warriors support students and staff at local universities and graduate schools. When it was announced the Students for Justice in Palestine group would be holding a rally at Montclair State University, the MetroWest Israel Action Committee put out a call and members showed up to support Jewish students. When Jewish students at Montclair State wanted to hold a pro-Israel rally, they contacted committee members who helped them organize and publicize the event. The rally attracted 100 supporters; speakers included Jewish students, Tobin and Rabbi Yaacov Leaf of Chabad of Montclair.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Moshe noted a growing interest in self-defense. “People are feeling physically unsafe,” he said. Prior to October 7, he and Renee had taken Krav Maga classes. When the MW Self-Defense Committee announced the creation of two Krav Maga rapid reactions classes, they were filled within 48 hours. The six-week class teaches students how to respond if personally attacked. “Students get actual and practical real-world knowledge,” said Moshe. A second round of the basic class is being considered, as is a permanent advanced course. He has also noticed that many people who never expressed interest in owning a gun are now considering it and want training.

The newest subcommittee is MW Local Elections. According to Moshe, “Do our college kids vote? Seniors? We’re woefully behind, more so in West Orange than Livingston. This group is dedicated to getting out the vote, encouraging the Jewish community in different ways to get involved, and cultivating relationships with members of the West Orange Town Council and Board of Education. We are also talking about running a Jewish candidate to be the first Jewish town council member.”

The response to the West Orange High School (WOHS) walkout in support of Palestine is a prime example of the committee in action.

Chanting “Hi-Ho, Israel has to go” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” students marched up Pleasant Valley en route to their rally in Verona Park. “Freedom of speech is what makes our country great,” but not when it includes calls for Jewish genocide,” said Moshe. In response, a pro-Israel counter-rally, primarily facilitated through the MetroWest Israel Action Committee WhatsApp groups, attracted more than 50 people who stood just outside the park, where they sang the national anthems of the U.S. and Israel, waved Israeli and American flags and recited Tehillim. “That’s our plan. To show people we hear what they are saying, that their actions are noticed and opposed, that we’re not afraid.,” added Moshe.

In conjunction with the counter-rally, the video editors group created a 90-second clip that showed the hate speech that was voiced during the rally. The committee plans to forward the video to the town council.

While the committee remains focused on the hostage crisis, there is an increasing emphasis on addressing antisemitism. “Our new mantra,” said Rein, “is we must fight the antisemitism in our country. We’ve gone from inspiring people with earlier activities and now it’s more about how to combat antisemitism. What college is doing something? What high school is doing something? Which groups?”

Reflecting on the impact of the MetroWest Israel Advocacy Committee to date, the Glicks and Rein agreed they are overwhelmed by the involvement of so many people from all parts of the MetroWest community—and emphasized the urgent need to continue the momentum.

“I am really proud of us as a Jewish community. Everyone jumped in and is working as one united front. Because of this I believe we have a new way of working together to make the world a better place. Now we have to focus on the political side, on local, state and national politics, so that we have the right people in the right place to support the Jewish community worldwide.”

A piece of gematria has resonated with Renee. “I actually just read that the gematria or numerical value of the word ‘yad’ or hand, is 14, which corresponds to the 14 joints in our hand. Two hands coming together have a gematria of 28, which is written in Hebrew as kaf chet, spelling koach, or strength. When the Jewish people unite, like two hands coming together, we are at our strongest. May we continue to remain united and merit to see our salvation soon.”

Moshe concluded, “Israel and the Jewish people are experiencing unprecedented times. Jew-hatred that was once relegated to the shadows is proudly displayed by many as a badge of honor. Every galus has ended the same way for the Jews.

“It’s time for every single one of us to stand up for Israel and for klal Yisrael, whether it’s attending a town council or board of education meeting, hanging up ‘kidnapped’ posters, taking self-defense classes, or advocating for Israel on college campuses. ‘Never again’ means that no one should be standing on the sidelines, but should be actively engaged in whatever we can do to help free the hostages, support the IDF, help our brethren in Israel and fight antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head.”

To get involved or learn more about the MetroWest Israel Action Committee, email Moshe at [email protected] or Rein at [email protected].

Sherry S. Kirschenbaum is a copy editor at The Jewish Link. She formerly was a communications specialist at a number of local and national Jewish organizations.

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