April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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West Orange High School Walks Out in Support of Palestine

Students from West Orange High School walked out of class the day before Thanksgiving to show their solidarity with Palestine.

The walkout came just a few weeks after a previously scheduled student walkout was postponed when West Orange residents expressed their concern that the rally would lead to antisemitism and would be anti-Israel as it called for “Palestine to be free from the river to the sea,” which many say is a call for Israel’s destruction.

Social media posts for the rally urged students to join the walk. “We shall not be silenced,” they wrote. “We demand truth. We demand justice. And we demand a cease-fire now!”

In a subsequent post, the organizers made clear their goal was to have a “civil” event. “To clarify,” they wrote, “we will NOT be tearing down the Hamas hostage posters while we are marching. We will NOT engage opposition.”

The students left school around 11 a.m. Chanting “Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho, the occupiers have got to go,” the group marched up Pleasant Valley Way from the high school to Verona Park, just under two miles away. Police from West Orange were stationed along the way, including in front Jewish stores and synagogues along the route.

Gathered just outside of the park were supporters of Israel, some of whom carried Israeli flags and posters. As the protestors walked past them en route to a site further into the park, the pro-Israel group sang “Hatikvah.”

At times, however, the song was drowned out by Palestinian activists on a bullhorn.

Over the next half hour or so, the singing continued moving from one song to the next — including “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Acheinu” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Several local residents also spoke during the vigil. Among them was Cindi Dresdner, a member of the MetroWest Stand Up for Israel planning committee, who had just returned from Israel. She told the crowd that “the Kotel, Yerushalem, it is empty” and urged those who can to visit the Jewish state even if only for a few days saying “there is so much to do.”

Dresdner noted that “Almost every shul has people coming every night to make tzitzit” and that some stores and coffee shops like Aroma “have closed down and just have people making sandwiches in them all morning and then shipping it down to the south.”

“The people in Israel see us, and they see what we are doing right here; they are very aware of everything that is happening here,” she said, adding it is “very important” that people continue to stand up and speak out.

Across the park were the students from West Orange High School, some of whom were carrying Palestinian flags or were draped in keffiyehs.

One pro-Palestinian speaker urged students to remember that they have a voice on election day and to vote “for who you believe in.” The same speaker referred to President Joe Biden as “Genocide Joe,” which pro-Palestine supporters have started using to disparage the president for his support of Israel since the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

Another speaker, a 17-year-old, introduced herself as the child of an interfaith couple who never went to Hebrew school. “We need to advocate,” she stated, urging people to hold on to what she claimed are the “true virtues” of Judaism — humanity and justice.

Among the pro-Israel rally-goers were several college students including Rachel, who attends Ithaca College, which is located in the same town as Cornell University, where an Asian-American student was arrested for threatening to kill Jewish students several weeks ago.

She said that her school has not made statements about the war in Israel and the Hamas attack, but that her Hillel community at Ithaca is a strong one so she feels supported.

Wearing a Star of David necklace, Rachel told The Jewish Link that nowadays “it’s even more to show I am supporting my people. I do get stares [at school] sometimes,” she said, “but they’re just jealous.”

Faygie Holt is the author of the bestselling Jewish children’s book series, “The Achdus Club,” for girls ages 8-11. The books, “The New Girl and Trouble Ahead,” are available at Jewish bookstores across the country and online at menuchapublishers.com. An award-winning journalist and editor, Faygie’s work appears regularly on chabad.org and in The Jewish Link of New Jersey, among other outlets. Learn more about the author, her books and her writing at faygielevy.com.

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