April 14, 2024
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West Orange Celebrates Israel With Flag Raising

In what is believed to be the largest crowd to ever turn out for a flag-raising ceremony in West Orange, 350 people joined together last week to celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday.

Despite concern the April 26 event would draw pro-Palestinian protesters based on objections raised about the ceremony at council meetings several weeks earlier, none showed. However, the enthusiastic residents who attended demonstrated their support for Israel through speeches and song.

“I think it’s always important to show our support for Israel in any way we can,” said Rabbi Marc Spivak of Congregation Ohr Torah. “What happened at the meetings was sort of a wake-up call for us that we have to attend these events. I think it’s very important for us to remember we have to support Israel.”

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David, who gave the prayer for the state of Israel, noted: “The flag raising was an important moment for our community and our township. The very strong showing by the Jewish residents of West Orange conveyed the message of what our community values and celebrates, with love and support of the State of Israel at our very foundation.”

This is the second year for the Israeli flag raising, and officials said they make it a point to recognize a variety of heritages through flag-raising ceremonies.

“We celebrate all members of our community,” said Councilwoman Susan Scarpa. “It was beautiful. The police provided a lot of security. We were happy to stand with our Jewish residents.”

The event is the brainchild of Amy Gallatin, who raised the flag and served as master of ceremonies as rabbis, young people and officials spoke. Mayor Susan McCartney issued a proclamation declaring May Jewish American Heritage Month.

“West Orange wishes nothing but eternal peace for Israel and all its people,” she said. “We honor its flag and support dignity and freedom for us all.”

McCartney also issued a proclamation declaring township resident Larry Rein deputy mayor in appreciation for his service to the community, which includes co-chairing the West Orange/Livingston Chesed WhatsApp group and being a trustee of the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.

In accepting the honorary volunteer position Rein reminded the crowd, “As Mayor McCartney said, I don’t get to charge taxes or give away parking spaces in town,” but added that “I look forward to making a difference in the community.”

Rein said he planned to provide the mayor with “a lot of input” by setting up an advisory council “to make life even better than it is today,” and provide a sense of unity to all cultures.

Yuval Donio-Gideon, consul for public diplomacy at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, said Israel does not take for granted that it has been able to achieve a strong democracy and vibrant economy. “We are able to make it because of the strong will of the people and no less because of the strong support of people around the globe,” he said.

Sophie Kasson is part of the class of 2021-23 of Write On for Israel, a two-year leadership and education program for Jewish high school students that empowers young influencers and future leaders to make a difference on college campuses and beyond, which is administered through the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.

“I went to Israel for the first time in late February of this year and on my way there I was a little skeptical when another girl on my trip excitedly told me how the air outside Tel Aviv Airport smells and feels like home after discovering I was a first-timer.”

But despite her skepticism, Kasson quickly found out the girl was right and that Israel did feel like home, falling in love with the vibrance of Ben Yehuda Street on Thursday night and the history behind the landmarks.

However, it was the Kotel that left the strongest impression on Kasson.

“Being not particularly observant I was unsure what prayers to say when I got there, so I simply chose to talk to God instead,” she said. “When I touched [the Kotel] I physically felt some strange power or vibration.”

Kasson will be attending college in New York City next year where she expects to encounter strong opposition to her beliefs about Israel. She feels her experiences and knowledge will enable her to challenge those in opposition.

Chaim Goldman of West Orange brought his own giant Israeli flag that he proudly waved.

“I came here to support Israel,” he said. “I came here to support West Orange. I love America but my heart is with the state of Israel.”

By Debra Rubin

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