July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Stop the Sirens: Federation Rallies for Israel

Englewood—Searching the blocks around Englewood’s BergenPAC Theater for a parking space, JLBC saw scores of Jews hurrying from wherever they had left their vehicles to get to a special rally called by the Jewish Federation of North Jersey (JFNNJ) and 60 area synagogues, over a dozen Jewish day schools, and two dozen of the area’s other major Jewish organizations.

By the 7 p.m. starting time, there wasn’t an empty seat in the orchestra floor and people rushed to fill the balcony. Later arrivals filled overflow rooms in the theater, and when they were full, hundreds of others stood on Van Brunt Street in front of the theatre. Toward the end of the program, Jason Shames, JFNNJ CEO announced the unofficial crowd estimate at 2,200 people, consisting mostly of the community’s Jews, and also members of interfaith groups. No one could remember seeing such a huge crowd at any Federation event in the last 40 years.

The idea and planning for the rally began earlier in the week. Joy Kurland, long-standing Exec. Dir. of the Federation’s JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council), and many other Federation staff and volunteers notified community members on Tuesday afternoon that there would be an Israel Solidarity Rally to kick-off their Stop the Sirens Campaign the following Thursday evening.

Among the speakers were Malcolm Hoenlein, Exec. Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who gave a comprehensive address before leaving to appear on a national radio program, and Sen. Robert Menendez, who left the presidents of three Central American countries in Washington to come home to Bergen County and deliver his speech to his most loyal constituents.

The program was opened by Dr. Zvi Marans, President of the JFNNJ. Among the dignitaries whose names he announced were former Congressman Steve Rothman; Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan; Freeholder Jim Tedesco; County Police Chief Brian Higgins; State Sen. Loretta Weinberg; Assemblyman. Assemblywoman, [people missing?] Sen. Gerald Cardinale; Assembly reps Robert Auth, Gordon Johnson, Valerie Huttle, and Joe Lagana; and Englewood’s Mayor Frank Huttle. Former Mayor of Fort Lee, Michael Wildes, was recognized by a later speaker.

Like most of the speakers, Marans had just returned from Israel. He reported that on the way to Israel, his delegation had stopped in Salonika, where 50,000 Jews had been killed by the Nazis because they had no one to save them. (Today Greece is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world.) He said that now Jews of the world stand up for themselves, and we should stand with those on the front lines in Israel, and that they do not stand alone. Upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, he said to himself, “I am home.”

He said that, contrary to many media depictions, there is no moral equivalency between a terrorist organization and a democratic government. When under serious threat, there is no appropriate proportional response. The threat must be stopped. Israel is America’s only ally in the mid-East. We should continue to help it stay safe and strong by writing to our representatives, visiting the country, and offering our services to it.

The Israeli Consul General to New York, Amb. Ido Aharoni said he was “humbled by this display of affection and support.” He thanked the U.S. for its funding of the Iron Dome missile defense program, which has saved tens of thousands of lives. He made it clear that this war with Hamas was deliberately imposed on Israel as part of the continued strategy of Hamas, which is shared by other Muslim terrorist groups, including those who blew up the Twin Towers. This is a clash of cultures, not a dispute with the Palestinians over territory or an independent state.

He said Hamas is not seeking any solution other than the eradication of Israel, and Jews around the world. Gaza was evacuated by Israeli forces nine years ago, who left behind many assets that the Gazans could have built upon. Instead, they chose to demolish those structures and turned Gaza into a launching pad for attacking Israel. Israel celebrates life; the Hamas Charter promotes bigotry, hatred, and death. They will settle for nothing less than total rule of the region by their brand of Islam, he said. Their tools are thousands of rockets and an extensive network of secret tunnels they use to bombard and infiltrate Israel. They want their own people to suffer, so that the sight of the casualties will bring international pressure on Israel to give in.

Aharoni admitted this war of terror weighs heavily on Israelis. While Hamas’s rockets have no other purpose than to kill, Israel is taking every precaution and making many sacrifices to preserve innocent lives, even of their enemies. But the war’s resulting turmoil is having devastating effects on Israel’s economy and the psyche of its citizens. They are burdened by dangers and the extraordinary efforts needed to deal with them. Israel’s tourism and trade are greatly curtailed, and investors are reconsidering investing there. We must support Israel by going there and buying its products here. Israelis are overwhelmed by our display of love and affection. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Malcolm Hoenlein decried the “calumny that Jews don’t back Israel. We are one people with one heart.” He praised the support given by Sen. Cory Booker and even more so Sen. Robert Menendez, “who even takes on the President from a sense of deep conviction.” Referring to the Biblical tribes of Israel who wanted to settle in the east, he pointed out that Israel’s war is fought on behalf of all Jews, wherever they live. “Israel did not want this war, but must now win it. And Israel cannot win by just being defensive… Hamas exists to kill, Israel kills to exist.” The U.N. condemns Israel multiple times annually, but takes no notice of the deaths of thousands by Muslim extremists.

He also said that the Arab Spring was a volcano that shook the whole Arab world. He indicated that some stable Arab regimes are becoming supportive of Israel, now that they have a common foe. No one uses proportionality in dealing with threats; a police force will not limit itself to sending just one officer to apprehend one criminal. Israel plays a crucial role in its region. If Hamas and ISIS were to meet, “that would be the end of Jordan.” Iran cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power, and Sen. Menendez is seeing to that. He also warned that extreme Islamists plan to infiltrate countries in the West. “This is a fight between their values and those of the U.S. and Israel. It is nothing less than a battle between good and evil.” He added that the media deceive their public by showing Gaza only through what Hamas will tell them or permit them to show.

“If the vow Never Again is to have meaning, we must act now, and not be silent. Your grandchildren demand it of you. This is a battle for the future.” He noted that the Jewish community has built a broad coalition of supporters in the U.S. Polls show that Israel is supported by 72% of Americans, so the community must present a united front.

The unexpected speaker was Sen. Menendez, who got a standing ovation. He had just gotten off the train from Washington, rushing to join this rally “to stand with you for Israel.” He spends his time in DC explaining to others that he supports Israel so strongly because it is essential to America’s national security interests. He and Sen. Lindsey Graham had introduced a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. It was passed unanimously by the Senate, and a companion resolution was passed unanimously in the House.

Like many others, Senator Menendez laments the loss of both Palestinian and Israeli lives. But when Hamas uses its civilians as shields for its rockets, Israel has no choice but to attack. He cheered the success of the Iron Dome program, which he has always supported, and which he said must be replenished. “What other army warns innocents of its planned attacks?” He said justice, time, and history are not on the side of Hamas. He advocates stopping U.S. financial support to Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas until he disowns Hamas and turns to making peace with Israel. He also warned that we must push back against the rise of ugly anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world and that the Jewish people’s thousands-of-years-old claim to its homeland must be honored.

Unable to leave Washington, DC, Congressman Bill Pascrell sent a message to the rally that was read to the crowd: “I am gravely concerned by the escalating violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip, and I am proud to express my solidarity with Israel during this harrowing time. Israel is a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East region, and has the implicit right to defend itself against these attacks. Innocent Israeli civilians should not have to live in constant fear that a Hamas rocket could come crashing down on their homes and neighborhoods. Hamas must end its rocket attacks on Israel, which have continued in spite of good faith offers for a ceasefire. I have been proud to support federal funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has likely lessened the number of Israeli casualties.

“I lament the loss of life during this terrible conflict. I believe that majority of Palestinians and majority of Israeli citizens want nothing more than peace and mutual respect from their neighbors. It is my hope that a ceasefire can be negotiated that can provide security and prevent further violence.”

Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, and a member of the JFNNJ headed the mission to southern Israel from which he and Dr. Zvi Marans had just returned. When his group met with four mayors of towns near Gaza, he asked what his group could do for their people. One mayor responded “We need a hug most. Give me a hug.” Our vocal support is important to every Israeli.

The people in that area have between 10 to 15 seconds to find shelter every time they hear a warning siren. “Count how long that is.” Bar-mitzvah aged kids have heard hundreds of those sirens all their lives. So, one thing American Jews are helping with is to give 45,000 southern kids the relief of a normal day in a park or zoo. Likewise, we are supporting the delivery of meals and medications to the elderly and home-bound.

While Israelis grieve over their fallen soldiers, we must realize that they are fighting for all Jews. The two lone soldiers, [American volunteer soldiers] killed recently had tens of thousands of mourners attend each of their funerals in Israel. “We are one family, with one destiny.” He told the parents of Gilad Shaar, one of the three murdered Israeli teenagers, that “we are all in shloshim [first 30 days of mourning] with you. Those boys brought unity to world Jewry and support from many nations. The North Jersey Jewish community is taking action in their memory.” Silverman is returning to Israel next week with another mission. He ended by pledging Am Yisroel Chai. His remarks were immediately followed by a group of Israel scouts holding a large Israeli flag who led the attendees in rousing renditions of that song and Oseh Shalom B’mrovov, bringing many in the audience to their feet.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter also just returned from Israel. He noted that he was born on the day the Yom Kippur War began. His parents sang Ani Mavteach Loch, a song promising Israeli children peace, to him as a small child. “But this vow has not been fulfilled, and conditions there now are no better than they were then. Fortunately, the Iron Dome brings them a warm blanket of comfort.” He asked Steve Rothman to join him on stage, so we could all thank Rothman for being the Congressional champion of that program. He too received a standing ovation.

Kirshner talked about how media bring us much misinformation. They do not point out that Israeli officers lead their units from the front, while Hamas leaders live safely in Qatar. “Hamas uses hospitals to store weapons, Israel uses them to save lives.” Gazans are not purely innocent civilians. They voted Hamas into power, take no steps to stop Hamas from putting rockets near their homes and institutions, and do not evacuate when warned by Israel to do so. Hamas uses innocent children as shields. Enough children have died there already, including our three murdered Israeli teenagers and the murdered Palestinian teenager. There are “Free Gaza” rallies around the world, but those same people don’t protest the far greater killings by Syria, Iran, ISIS, and Boko Haram. They don’t recognize that Gaza was freed nine years ago, when Israel withdrew all its forces from the territory. Instead, they demand that “the most moral army ever” be investigated and found guilty of war crimes. Protesters complain of Israel’s blockade of certain goods to Gaza, but don’t protest Hamas’s 35 infiltration tunnels and thousands of rockets.

Father Donald Sheehan, retired Pastor of Saint Matthew’s Church in Ridgefield and a long-time participant in interfaith activities spoke next. His first very warm remark was “I’d like to give Israel a hug.” He strongly praised Congress for passing companion resolutions, in both houses, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and demanding that Hamas immediately cease its attacks. He has visited Israel a couple of times. He saw the desert bloom, prayed at the Western Wall alongside Rabbi Neal Borovitz [recently retired from Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and past Chairman of the JCRC], and saw how vibrant Jerusalem is. He understands how an Israeli soldier would not want to let go of any of that. He “prays for peace in Israel, like any good soldier would.” He ended by reading a statement from Archbishop Meyers of Newark that called for peace and justice.

The concluding speaker was Dr. Leonard Cole, past president of the JFNNJ and the national JCPA (Jewish Council for Public Affairs). He had arrived home from Israel just a few hours earlier. He addressed those present as “Ladies, gentlemen, youngsters, mishpacha.” After visiting with one of the severely wounded soldiers in a hospital in Israel, he was shocked to see the headlines in London papers, where he had a stopover, calling for a “War Crimes Investigation” and calling Israelis “ruthless barbarians.” In fact, “they are the most decent and humanitarian army in the world.” “The trauma of Israelis, especially those in the south, has never been so deep.” In addition to having to repeatedly take shelter from rockets, they now fear surprise attacks from Hamas terrorists popping out of undetected tunnels. They never used to lock their doors, but they do now. Many voices are demanding an immediate ceasefire, but Cole thinks that should come only after every Hamas tunnel has been wiped out. He urged everyone to tell their representatives how important this crisis is to us all.

The very last words were from Jason Shames, urging everyone to participate in missions to Israel and in giving donations to support all the emergency relief that is being undertaken by many organizations.

By Stephen Tencer

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