College students to stage ‘Free Shalit’ rally in capital

College students to stage ‘Free Shalit’ rally in capital

Malka Goldberg holds up the permit from the National Park Service for the Veterans Day “Free Gilad Shalit” rally on the National Mall. Photo by Shira Stoler
Malka Goldberg holds up the permit from the National Park Service for the Veterans Day “Free Gilad Shalit” rally on the National Mall. Photo by Shira Stoler

A college student from West Orange will take a page from the 1960s — and latter-day activists like Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart — in staging a “Free Gilad Shalit” rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Malka Goldberg, a West Orange resident and junior at the University of Maryland, has secured permission to stage a rally on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, hoping to raise awareness over the plight of Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been a prisoner of Hamas since June 2006.

“Our rally is called ‘1,600 for 1,600’ because it will be his 1,600th day of captivity,” Goldberg told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 28 phone interview. “Our goal is to have 1,600 people there, with each person representing one day.”

Goldberg, 21, is treasurer of the Zionist Organization of America chapter on her College Park campus and is coordinating the event with its president, Daniel Verdugo.

“It may be a Gilad Shalit rally, but since it is happening on Veterans Day we will be acknowledging American veterans, and we would like people from veterans groups to make some sort of presentation,” she said.

The rally will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11. Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, is scheduled to address the gathering. Goldberg’s group plans to send out mass e-mails this week, detailing such items as logistics and parking.

Such details have been on Goldberg’s mind since last summer, when her ZOA chapter’s board members began discussing activities for the fall semester. Verdugo suggested a rally to support freedom for Shalit, and Goldberg proposed that it be held on the National Mall.

“At first they were skeptical that we could pull it off, but I set up a meeting with the National Park Service and just received the rally permit today. It took time because it’s the government,” she said.

Working in study lounges, the Hillel office, and friends’ apartments, the ZOA chapter began forging partnerships with what Goldberg called “a huge coalition of organizations who are providing funding, who are providing publicity, who are bringing groups of people, and who are doing all of the above.”

They have won support from two other Jewish organizations at their university, Kedma and the Jewish Student Union, in addition to ZOA’s national organization, the David Project, the Israel on Campus Coalition, Israel Citizens’ Information Council: Hasbara, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and EMET-Endowment for Middle East Truth.

Shalit supporters also plan to hold similar events in the Midwest and on the West Coast on Nov. 11.

“They heard about our rally and they are too far away to come, but they wanted to do something,” Goldberg said.

Freedom for Shalit “is important for so many reasons,” said Goldberg. “He has been in captivity for four-and-a-half years, and nobody has any clue about what’s going on. There has been no contact with the outside world, and it’s an issue for the entire world. Hamas is ignoring international law. Everybody should care.”

And while she and the other organizers are not advocating any particular approach to freeing Shalit, she said, “we want to make people aware of why this is such a big problem. We are staying away from the political aspects because we want to reach as many people as possible.”

After she graduates in June 2012, Goldberg said she hopes to become involved in the world of nonprofit advocacy, although “some people have told me I need to have a ‘real job’ before I work for a nonprofit.”

Goldberg said she realizes that corporate PR can be a far more lucrative way of life.

“I am probably going to live in a cardboard box,” she joked. “I’m OK with that.”

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