Ten thousand rally for Israel in Manhattan


Entire DRS and Rambam student bodies participate

By Michael Orbach

Issue of Jan. 16, 2009 / 20 Teves 5769

A crowd of over ten thousand people — including virtually the entire student bodies of DRS and Rambam Mesivta, both of which rescheduled Talmud finals in order to participate — attended the rally for Israel on Sunday outside the Israeli Consulate in New York City.

The crowd snaked up the length of 42nd street, spread slowly from Second Avenue, past Third Avenue and, by noon, had swallowed a portion of Lexington Avenue in a swath of pro-Israel signs.

It seemed, if you were Jewish in New York you were either at the rally or knew five others who were.

Since no Jewish event — apparently including a wartime rally — is complete without food, two couples at the Cedarhurst station of the Long Island Rail Road compared the snacks they were carrying to the rally (“banana and an apple,” “banana and a yogurt”).

The boarding platform at Jamaica was a sea of bobbing kippot (yarmulkes), long skirts, and parents holding the hands of children who, in turn, also clutched Israeli flags. The midday No. 7 train had more than a few hapless travelers who wondered if they should get off at Fifth Avenue or Grand Central Terminal (“maybe we should have taken the shuttle?” one older man asked, “It has a bathroom”).

It was almost a Jewish holiday.

The rally was the second in New York City since Israel began a ground operation to shut down rocket firing capacity of the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza.

UJA-Federation of New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sponsored it.

A who’s-who list of pro-Israel politicians attended, including Governor David Patterson, Senator Charles Schumer, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Assemblyman Rory Lancman.

Hate has no place in the Empire State. So, I came here today on behalf of all people in New York to say, where hate exists we will try to stop it,” Governor Paterson said over a public address system that, at times, was inaudible from the edge of the crowd.

Speaker Quinn described a trip to Israel and being forced to run to a shelter when rockets struck the college she was visiting. “If hundreds of rockets were raining down on City College would we wait till they hit Brooklyn College?” she asked.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, rebuked the United Nations.

“The UN security council should stay out of this,” Hoenlein told the crowd. “They should not try to impose artificial deadlines, timetables, or ceasefires. Israel has to be allowed to carry out its mission to diminish Hamas capacity and stop the rockets and the terror. False issues like proportionality have been raised. What should Israel have done? Should they have bombed them 8,000 times for each of the rockets fired indiscriminately at the civilian population, as Hamas did at Israel?”

In an apparent reference to the campaign theme of President-elect Barack Obama, Hoenlein then led the crowd in cheering, “Yes, you can” - “Yes, you can count on us! Yes, you can count on the Congress! Yes, you can take the necessary steps to insure the rockets don’t come.”

The crowd was enthusiastic.

“You gotta stand up and be counted,” said Kim Amzallag, a former advertising executive who dragged her two sleepy children out of bed for the rally.

Marc Aspis, a Boston University graduate student who served in the Israeli army explained why he attended the rally.

“We need to show Israel that New York — Jews, Irish, Italian, Black, Hispanic — support Israel and it’s right to defend itself,” he said.

Marina Lyaunzon, a twenty-something who leads Birthright tours said, “Israel needs US support and it’s not getting it. America is one of the largest players and we need to be heard here.”

Unlike a Palestinian protest held later in the day at which nine people were arrested, the rally for Israel was peaceful; the main worry for the large contingent of police officers appeared to be boredom and hands chapping in the winter cold.

Even protestors to the rally seemed strangely subdued. Dan Sieradski, unofficial leader of a small group of Jewish and Muslim protestors, agreed that Israel’s operation in Gaza was justified, though he doesn’t believe that a military response to rocket fire is a viable course of action.

“This is a short-term solution, you’ll just lionize Hamas,” he warned.

Most others in a crowd begged to differ, chanting “Israel yes! Hamas no!” and “Stop the Rockets!” They booed the United Nations and waved red hats that were handed out in large numbers to denote the Tzeva Adom — red alerts — that signify incoming missiles, in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba.

Representative Steve Israel said, “There will be peace when Hamas stops building rockets and starts building hope.”

Afterward, Yoni Pollock, a DRS 10th grader from West Hempstead said, “A non-Jewish man on the street approached my dad and said, ‘I hope everything goes ok with your brothers and sisters there.’ I felt like we had a role in helping spread the word, and that was incredible.”