Members of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Community joined in a rally in support of Israel at JFK Plaza (“Love Park”), 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.
The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; the Philadelphia Jewish Voice; American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; American Friends of Magen David Adom; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Boys Town Jerusalem Foundation of America; The Collaborative; Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region; Female Hebrew Benevolent Society; Hadassah of Greater Philadelphia; Jewish Exponent; Jewish Learning Venture; Jewish National Fund; J-Street; Philadelphia ZOA; and Tribe 12, along with several synagogues and schools. Several schools and other groups organized buses to the rally.
Across the street, on the steps of the Municipal Services Building, 15th and JFK Boulevard, pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a counter-rally.
Michael Hersch, Philadelphia Area Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, said of the rally,
I am a first-generation American, that is also the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, and I dedicated my career to Jewish communal service, and I think this is a moment where Jewish people have to remind each other that there’s certain things we’re going to agree to agree on.
Noting that much of the political progressive community has taken a stance hostile to Israel, when asked if there is still a place in the progressive community for pro-Israel sentiment, Hersch said, “It’s really difficult for me to comment on what other individuals and other organizations see as an appropriate stance for them to take on Israel. I feel like Israel, like other nations, has good and bad about it, and I feel like the people of Israel are my people, I have family that live over there, so for me it’s an organic stance that I take. This feels like the right place for me to be, and I can’t speak to what other progressives are thinking and doing with regards to Israel.”
Sherrie R. Savett, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, greeted everyone attending, saying, “ I am overwhelmed by all of you who have come here today to stand with Israel. It’s hard to estimate, but I believe there are thousands of you here, standing strong with Israel. It just shows, that for Israel and for us, it was highly necessary for us to have this rally.”
Savett quoted a letter from Rabbi Neil S. Cooper, of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, who was in Israel, stating,
To stand with Israel is not about politics, it’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong. Standing up for Israel in her time of need means to put aside internal differences in order to come together and show that we are united in our support and solidarity with Israel….
I have been in constant contact with friends and representatives in Israel, and they told me something that surprised me. The men, women, and children of Israel feel isolated. The Israelis are the most resilient people that I’ve ever known, they are forever committed to living normal lives in the Middle East, the only democracy in that region. But nothing is normal now. They have been barraged by, on average, one hundred forty missiles a day, for the past two weeks. They are being attacked by air, on sea, and on their own land in the south.” In the Federation’s partnership community Netivot-Sedot Negev, Cooper wrote, “children cannot go to camp or school, adults cannot go to work or run errands. They cannot be more than fifteen seconds away from a shelter at any moment, taking a shower can be positively nerve racking, everyone is on edge. Children are simply traumatized. The support of North American Jews and non-Jews, our support, is a major boost to the Israelis. Our support, both emotional and financial, really matters to the Jewish people of Israel, and to all the people of Israel….
Over the last two weeks, nearly two thousand rockets were fired against Israel. Twenty-nine members of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and three civilians lost their lives, may their memories be for a blessing. The loss of life is a tragedy. I must firmly say every life lost is a tragedy, not just an Israeli life. Every person who has perished in this war was beloved by their families, and we profoundly mourn the loss of innocent life on both sides of this painful conflict. We pray that peace to the region will be restored soon. Peace requires partners, and Hamas must stop these daily and indiscriminate attacks. Their victimization of Israelis, as well as their own innocent people, whom they use as human shields for storing weaponry, is deplorable.
Cooper’s letter called for “an end to the violence, and to prevent further unnecessary death and despair, that has imperiled lives both in Israel and in Gaza”
Savett noted that US and European airlines suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv, and said, “Now more than ever, we must demonstrate our unwavering support for, and solidarity with, our brothers and sisters in Israel. Your presence today is vitally important, so we are videotaping this rally and sending the video to our Federation’s partnership community so they know just how much the people of Philadelphia care for them.” Savett spoke also of “disturbing images in the media from around the world, showing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations. It becomes increasingly important for Israel to see images and to hear words of love and solidarity.”
Rabbi Greg Marx, of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, gave the invocation for the rally. Marx led the group in the chant from the Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, Gesher Tzar Me’od; veha’ikar lo ‘lfachayd klal (Hebrew for “The world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is to not be afraid). Marx added:
They [the Israelis] are not afraid, and we too will not be afraid. We will not be afraid of those who will hate us, solely because we love Israel. We will not be afraid to stand with our brothers and sisters, who have to run into bomb shelters with only seconds to spare. We will not be afraid to defend Israel as it seeks security and deterrence.
We will not be afraid of a violent protest driven be anti-Semitism across the globe, with the goal of forcing us to cower and hide. We will not be afraid to sing Hatikava [the Israeli national anthem] with a lump in our throat, and hope in our heart. We will not be afraid to say ’I am proud of Israel for her strength and for her restraint.’”
Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, thanked everyone for their support of Israel, and added, “Please don’t let it stop now. Stay in touch with us (the Federation), tell us when you’re in Israel, come with us to Israel to show your solidarity. Support Israel in every way that you possibly can. So not forget this day, and stand with Israel every day.” Adler then introduced members of the Christian clergy who came to show support for Israel. “Support for Israel crosses all religious denominations,” she added.
Wayne Kimmel, Treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, spoke next, saying,
I’m here today to support Israel. I’m here today to support peace. I’m here to support our own Israeli Prime Minister, who is from Philadelphia, Benjamin Netanyahu. I’m here to support the soldiers of the IDF. I’m here to support the citizens of Israel, and most importantly, their right to defend themselves from terrorists.
Kimmel introduced Elad Strohmayer, Deputy Consul General for the Mid-Atlantic region.
Thirty-two Israeli heroes,” Strohmayer began, “have fallen within the past two weeks, while exercising their highest duty, defending our people. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Hamas rockets only because they were Israelis. 2100 rockets have been fired at Israel in the last three weeks by Hamas, causing terror and fear, in an attempt to disrupt our daily routine…..
But let me be clear: we will not surrender. The Israeli people are resilient and strong. We choose life, and we will not let Hamas war crimes dictate how we live. Come walk in the streets of Israel today. You may see people that may be afraid but are still strong, afraid for their own safety and for the lives of their loved ones who are in the field of battle, but strong as we continue to strive. Summer camps go on with security adjustments, restaurants and cafes are full of people who want to enjoy the sunny days. And yes, our airport is open….
We’re gathered here today to say, enough is enough. We have shown restraint in the face of 9000 rockets that were fired at Israel since 2005. We have shown restraint when they kidnapped soldiers, slew innocent children, and dug tunnels of terror under Gaza to infiltrate Israel and kill more people. We have shown this restraint because unlike the deadly terrorists of Hamas, we cherish human lives, no matter if it’s the life of an Israeli or a Palestinian. Saying the IDF is the most moral army in the world is not an empty slogan. Hams is using its own people as human shields. They’re firing at us from within schools, mosques, and hospitals. The IDF identifies these terrorists hidden within civilian populations in Gaza, and alerts the innocent people to evacuate. But Hamas not only asks them to ignore these warnings, but actually threatens them and physically forces them to stay in their homes. Hamas war crimes tactics are the reason we have taken on so many casualties.
Pointing out the pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the street form the rally, Strohmayer said, “I don’t hate them, I feel sorry for them. I’m sorry that their hearts are full of hate. Around the world we see demonstrators shouting ’Death to Israel, death to the Jews,’ with burning hatred in their eyes. Synagogues were broken into and burned in Paris. Pro-Israel demonstrators are terrorized by anti-Semites, and yes, it’s time to call it what it is, it’s anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism again raises its ugly face.”
The next speaker, Professor Ed Turzanski, co-chair of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of Terrorism, is also a Professor of Political science at LaSalle University.
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill came to the United States, when the atrocities of Bataan had become known. When he came to the Congress, he asked one question, ‘What kind of people do they think we are?’ As we see Israel under attack today, we have to ask the question of ourselves, ’What kind of people do they think we are?’ …
Turzanski challenged the news media,
Have you ever read the Hamas charter? Do you know what it says, not just about Jews, but anyone who is not of their Muslim faith? Do you not recognize the common sense connection between action and consequence? There are those, some of them in very high places, who will have a moment off camera, where they say something which they then do not repeat off camera, because they know that the truth is different. We’re here to remind people of that truth.
Referring to the pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the street, Turzanski said, “Our friends across the way are very angry, and they have a reason to be angry. Their people are subjected to horrible treatment, but if they want to exercise the right of anger, they have to exercise the responsibility to identify the source of their misery.” Addressing the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, Turzanski said, “Hamas has ruined your country. They have ruined the lives of your children. They have taught hatred to your children, from the earliest of age. They have denied you the opportunity to develop a land that Israel left voluntarily nine years ago. What have you done with that land? You have built tunnels so you can protect missiles. You have built tunnels so that you can go to Israel to kidnap and murder the innocent. Is this your idea of taking a land that was given to you so that you can fulfill your deepest aspirations?”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recalled his recent trip to Israel:
I am deeply saddened and concerned by the weeks of violence that so many of us in Philadelphia, the United States and the world are experiencing daily and up to the minute because of the severe conflicts and bombings taking place in the Middle East. In my travels last year to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem on behalf of our great City, I had the opportunity to talk with businesspeople, students, parents, community leaders, academics, religious leaders and government officials – Israelis and Palestinians, and remarkably, many expressed the same desires and hopes -to live in peace, to be safe and secure and to have better lives for themselves and their children. It is so clear that we must all seek a peaceful resolution to the on-going conflict, and that a mutually agreed upon and enforceable cease-fire is needed immediately. You cannot pursue peace, and engage in fighting at the same time, that won’t work to resolve anything. It is my deepest hope that the two parties will heed the call of President Barack Obama to bring about a peaceful end to the current hostilities, that each party will acknowledge the other parties’ concerns and rights to live peacefully and securely, and that longer term sustainable solutions can be discussed, negotiated, mediated and agreed upon that recognizes each parties’ right to exist, to be secure and to defend itself from harm and danger. The Middle East, and the world, need peace now.
Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) issued a statement on the subject:
I am deeply saddened by the unnecessary loss of any and all lives during this latest crisis in the Middle East. Today, and every day, I stand with Israel and support its right to defend itself and its citizens.
I have supported the Iron Dome since its inception, and continue to be reassured by its success over the last several weeks in intercepting hundreds of rockets and protecting the Israelis in their path. Further, I am currently working in the Appropriations Committee on supplemental funding to provide an additional $225 million to accelerate and expand the Dome’s defense capabilities.
I agree with President Obama that any cease fire negotiations must also include a demilitarization of the Gaza Strip; I support Senator Kerry’s ongoing negotiations in the country and am pleased to hear of today’s progress.
Israel is, and remains, one of America’s most important allies. We must work to swiftly end the current violence and return to unconditional cease-fire in the region. Ultimately we hope for, and work towards, the day when there is a two-state solution and living in peace can be the reality.