Jews from throughout the tri-state area really love Israel.
As one of at least 10,000 people who on July 28 packed an entire Manhattan city block — at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street near the United Nations — I can attest to that love.
The rally — organized by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and cosponsored by a host of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish groups — mobilized Jews from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and beyond, including many non-Jewish supporters, at a time when Israel could benefit from a tremendous boost of international solidarity.
Yet we rally-goers also received our own jolt — and reminders of the ruach of the Zionist summer camps of our youth. Busloads of young, impressionable campers came to the rally from Pennsylvania and Westchester, with four teens — representing the camps Moshava, Morasha, and Ramah in the Berkshires — chosen to read various tehillim (psalms) aloud. And while Israeli diplomats, members of Congress, representatives of interfaith communities, and the heads of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University delivered speeches, the audience was also treated to a performance by the Maccabeats, the famed Yeshiva University a cappella group who belted out such classics as “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” and “Am Yisrael Chai.”
One of the most telling moments occurred when I checked my iPod, curious to see what free WiFi was available, and came across one available signal (password-protected, of course) — the Sudan Mission to the United Nations. Sudan? Really? The mass violator of human rights that is a symbol of all that is wrong with the composition of the UN? What a lesson for their diplomatic emissaries to be able to gaze down from their office and see thousands of Jews rallying for one of the few countries that actually upholds basic human rights principles. Imagine what they could absorb from Israel, a nation that announces to its enemies that they are about to launch a missile attack in order for innocent civilians to clear the area, a country that constructs its own field hospital to treat injured Gazans. The irony was inescapable.
For the last several weeks, since the kidnapping and discovery of the three murdered Israeli teens and the escalation of rocket fire from Gaza, leading to an all-out Israeli ground invasion, American Jews like me have been feeling incredibly helpless — and perhaps just a bit guilty that we are here while thousands of IDF soldiers, many young enough to be our own sons, are on the front lines. We light candles, we send over basic items like socks and underwear for the hayalim in the field, we recite extra tehillim. But the reality is we are resting comfortably in the United States while Israelis are waging the conflict — and dying in defense of Israel. Could Americans really imagine the fears Israeli families face as they run to bomb shelters in the middle of the night with as little as 15 seconds to get to safety and live with constant worry about their friends and loved ones in the army?
I acknowledge that American Jews can’t be there for Israel in the way that matters most — with our feet. But Israelis should know that when we carry our signs of solidarity in public, obsessively follow the news on Facebook and Twitter, and wince each time we hear of another soldier lost, they are never alone.