NJ ‘mishpacha,’ 550-strong, rallies around Israel
Federation, partners gather in solidarity after week of conflict
Cantor Jessica Epstein leads the singing at the Israel solidarity rally, with speakers Gil Lainer and Lori Klinghoffer, front row left.
November 28, 2012
Falling temperatures were met by rising hopes for a successful ceasefire as 550 people rallied in support of Israel on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 25, in Livingston.
“When family is in trouble, we show up,” declared Lori Klinghoffer, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, drawing a roar of applause from the audience at Temple B’nai Abraham.
Klinghoffer said the federation had already approved $200,000 as its “fair share” contribution to the $5 million provided to the Israel Terror Relief Fund by the Jewish Federations of North America.
Being the umbrella organization for the community, Klinghoffer said, “gives us the power to respond in a heartbeat, whether it’s after a hurricane and rain, or a rain of rockets.”
She called on the community to come together again on Dec. 2 for the federation’s annual Super Sunday phonathon at its offices in Whippany and Scotch Plains.
While most of those present at the rally were local, people came from across the region. The gathering was sponsored by the federation together with the American Jewish Committee NJ Region; AIPAC; the Anti-Defamation League NJ Region; Northern NJ Region of Hadassah; JNF; Rabbinic Cabinet of Greater MetroWest; the Va’ad of Central NJ; the National Council of Jewish Women’s Essex, Union, and Morris counties’ sections; and NCJW State Political Advocacy.
Speakers did not debate the political or policy implications of the ceasefire or Israel’s campaign against terror targets in response to a barrage of Hamas rockets.
Instead, organizers described it as a gathering of mishpacha, family, and said the message was solidarity with Israel’s people in a time of crisis.
That message came through loud and clear for one of the federation’s shlihim, or Israeli emissaries, who stepped forward to lead the singing of the Israeli national anthem.
“It’s very difficult being away,” senior shliha Rozi Ben Ami told NJJN, “but when you see this support, it feels amazing. At first, I wanted to go back, but my father told me not to. He said — and I agree — that what we’re doing here is very important.”
Gil Lainer, consul for public diplomacy at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, came in from Manhattan to address the gathering. “I really like working with this community,” he said afterward. “It does great things.”
Lainer told the audience that Israel made a strategic choice to pursue peace, but “some of our neighbors have not made the same strategic choice for peace.” Israel had tried for years to make the international community aware that it was under fire from Gaza, with “the peace between barrages” getting shorter and shorter, he said.
“Israel has shown tremendous restraint,” Lainer added. Even after the latest violence, he continued, “In the end, it’s clear the majority of Israelis are still for a two-state solution, but is there anyone on the other side for the handshake? That remains to be seen.”
The rally also featured a Skype connection with Yael Rakov from her home in Jerusalem. A volunteer community activist, she told the gathering about her visit to the federation partnership city of Ofakim, where she witnessed the stress and resilience of southern residents under fire. A video was shown of children learning a cheerful song designed to distract them when they hear warning sirens.
TBA’s Rabbi Cliff Kulwin, who had just returned from a three-day solidarity mission to Israel (see story, page 10), said he debated the wisdom of going to beleaguered communities and becoming a burden on his hosts. Instead, he was greeted enthusiastically everywhere they went. “Far from being a burden, we were treated as honored guests,” he said.
Kulwin urged others to visit too. “Solidarity doesn’t just mean a letter, or a phone call, or e-mail, or a text, or a tweet; it means showing up, standing beside them,” he said. “If you were planning to go, don’t even think of canceling. If you feel any hesitation, call me; I’ll set you straight.”
Solidarity at NY rally
All 48 boys in the senior class at the Jewish Educational Center’s Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy, accompanied by two faculty members, took part in the Nov. 20 Stand for Israel rally outside the Israeli consulate in New York City. Organized by StandWithUs, an international pro-Israel organization, the demonstration drew a crowd of more than 1,500.
Speakers included Sarri Singer of Strength to Strength, Rabbi Avi Weiss of Amcha Coalition for Jewish Concerns, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Gil Lainer of the Israeli consulate.
Being part of the rally gave the students from the yeshiva in Elizabeth an opportunity “to be vocal in support of Israel, and present with people who share that feeling,” said teacher Rabbi Ami Neuman. “They were singing in the bus as we drove in, and everyone smiled as the bus passed by.” The school has a number of alumni serving in the Israel Defense Forces and studying in Israeli yeshivas, so for that reason as well, Neuman said, it meant a lot for the boys to be there. “The rally showed them that as helpless as we might feel, there is something we can do to show our support.”
Conrad Nudell, chair of the Israel Support Committee, which links six Union County synagogues, was at the rally, too. He said, “I felt it was the least I could do to show my support for Israel while so many of them are subject to horrendous attacks multiple times a day. To be surrounded by hundreds of Jews who felt as I did and were loudly expressing their commitment to Israel with me felt great.”