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.”