In the country’s leading media market, a demonstration in Manhattan is likely to receive the attention of social media and news organizations. But not everyone has the time or ability to take the train to Times Square and jostle through the crowd to shout Am Yisrael Chai. In this crisis moment, when the Israeli response to rioting and rocket attacks has inspired open expressions of anti-Semitism from the political left, Jews and their allies across the country are speaking out in their hometowns and villages.
“I see people from many synagogues in Merrick and Bellmore, the Catholic church, and the Greek Orthodox church,” said Merrick resident Larry Korman. “It’s a very pro-Israel community.”
Instead of a long train ride to Midtown, Korman stood with more than 200 of his neighbors last Thursday in front of Congregation Ohav Sholom in Merrick, where elected officials, clergy, and activists spoke of their support for Israel as the ceasefire with Hamas went into effect. The event was organized by Bellmore resident Amir Benno, an attorney active in local politics and Jewish causes.
“We are one with Israel, we are united with Israel,” said Rabbi Shimon Kramer, the Chabad shaliach in Merrick. He noted that his cousin Ari Halberstam was a victim of terrorism 27 years ago, killed on the Brooklyn Bridge by an Arab immigrant expressing his hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe often taught us that we can have an effect on our brothers in Israel by doing mitzvos: mezuzos on our doorposts, candles, t’filin, and giving a little charity in their honor.”
Itay Milner, the spokesman of the Israeli Consulate General for New York, said that while the war is over, in the media the battle continues. “‘It’s with the lies that they’re spreading. They call it the narrative. It doesn’t matter what Israel does. Against the lies, you’re the iron dome,” he told the crowd.
Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman spoke of this latest round of rocket attacks as a repeat of 2014, when he visited Ashkelon, Sderot, and other communities in southern Israel. “The rockets are targeting 70 percent of the landmass of Israel. Yet there are those who won’t let Israel defend itself. The ceasefire has to be on Israel’s terms. My wife Segal has aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews living over there.”
There were a few Trump banners and shirts among participants, but the event was promoted as nonpartisan in its support of Israel. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, spoke of her visit to Israel in February of last year, before the pandemic shut down international travel. “Israel is a valuable ally for us and that’s why we’re taking a stand.”
Father Nikiforos Fakinos of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church spoke of his congregation’s prayers that are inspired by “songs, hymns, and prayers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They pray for peace in the Holy Land. The nearby Catholic church was represented at the rally by Patrick O’Brien, a seminarian training for the priesthood. Charles Klein, rabbi of Merrick’s Conservative temple, connected the census of Parshas BaMidbar to the impact of the pro-Israel rally. “When you’re surrounded by trouble, every person, family, tribe counts in the difference between survival and death. We are saying to count on us.”
Although the ceasefire remained in effect over the weekend, images of violent supporters of the Palestinian cause beating up Jews in Manhattan, throwing firecrackers, and cursing Jews with hundreds of likes, shares, comments, and retweets echoing such actions. For this reason, rallies intending to support Israel carried an equally important message of Jewish expression in our American home. This past Sunday, a rally in Great Neck attracted more than 500 participants, including State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assembly Members Charles Lavine and Gina Sillitti. In Tenafly, more than 2,000 people gathered to wave Israeli and American flags. Eyal Yechezkell, co-chair of the New Jersey regional council for the Israeli American Council, noted that more than a dozen rallies took place on that day across the country with the support of his organization.
Throughout our history, we’ve faced questions whether to engage in shtadlanus, quiet diplomacy with government officials, or a hafganah, a visible public demonstration. Do the kippot on our heads serve as visible displays of defiance? Are we permitted to risk our safety expressing support for Israel in public? In western European cities, one cannot walk in public carrying an Israeli flag, let alone appearing as a visible Jew. Although incidents of violence against visibly identifiable Jews have picked up across the country, I believe that to prevent anti-Semitism from gaining ground and establishing a monopoly on the street, we must take a public stand with strength in numbers.
This past Sunday, I was driving through Garden City, where leftist and Muslim demonstrators rallied outside the district office of Rep. Kathleen Rice, a reliable supporter of Israel. With a police escort, they marched north on Franklin Avenue. My car had to wait as they passed. Fifty feet and a single cop separated us. I took out my American and Israeli flags and waved them as the crowd chanted for an intifada. Fortunately, there was no confrontation, but I proved my point that our enemies should not have a monopoly in the public square. As we pray, lobby, vote, and donate, we also appear in public to speak for Israel.
By Sergey Kadinsky