Over 700 people packed the Whippany headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ on July 21 in support of Israel, as the country’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza entered its third week.
Participants waved Israeli flags, wiped tears, and cheered as dignitaries, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7), spoke in support of Israel’s right to defend itself, underscored the success of the Iron Dome defense system, and mourned the soldiers who had fallen during the operation.
Menendez drew some of the loudest applause from the Aidekman campus audience when he spoke of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
“It is in the national interests and security of the United States to have a strong, unwavering relationship with the State of Israel,” he said, adding, “I believe we have a special obligation, because of that national security interest of the United States, to take a lead role in standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel and its people in times like these.”
He praised the Israel Defense Forces for efforts to reduce civilian casualties in targeting Hamas operatives.
“Israel goes to an extent I have never seen a foreign entity do, knocking on the doors of people saying, ‘We are coming, so please get out of the way’; making phone calls saying, ‘Please leave’; sending flyers that say, ‘Please leave if you are innocent.’
What army in the world tells the enemy, ‘We are coming?’”
Focusing on Hamas, Menendez said, “What Hamas must understand is that time is not on their side. History is not on their side. And justice is not on their side.” He concluded, affirming Israel’s longstanding right to its home in the Middle East. “We cannot deny the Jewish people a state which they have had as a homeland going back millennia to Abraham and Sarah.”
Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York, kicked off the event following introductory words from federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal of South Orange, who recently returned from a trip to Israel and experienced the air raid sirens that have been disrupting Israel for weeks.
Aharoni acknowledged that “War is ugly. War is messy. War is chaotic.” He continued, “But what do we do when we are facing an enemy that is not interested in the preservation of life, but an enemy that wants to die, sends suicide bombers on you, an enemy using its own population as a human shield, an enemy constantly perpetrating the suffering of its own people, an enemy committed to our total destruction?”
He called the gathering of hundreds of people “heartwarming” for Israelis, who have faced some 2,000 rocket attacks in recent weeks. Although the majority are intercepted by Iron Dome, Aharoni said, the attacks disrupt business, terrify families, and strain resources.
Lance also drew distinctions between Israel and Hamas. “Hamas uses women and children as a shield for its weapons. Israel uses weapons as a shield for women and children,” he said.
The event was organized by the federation’s Community Relations Committee and cosponsored by an array of Jewish organizations and synagogues. The event was scheduled for Monday morning to accommodate the speakers’ schedules, said CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick. She said the event was held indoors for security purposes.
The standing-room-only crowd included seniors and children, as well as local rabbis and heads or lay leaders of local Jewish organizations. Among the younger attendees were two Israeli shlihim, or emissaries, from Gesher Summer Camp in Livingston; youngsters from JCC MetroWest’s Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders; and members of the Diller Teen Fellows, a teen leadership development group whose scheduled trip to Israel was delayed a week due to the escalation of violence. They are scheduled now to leave July 23.
Josh Novick, 18, of Millburn, came to the rally with his mother, Ruth. Josh, who plans to attend the University of Maryland in the fall, said he has attended the annual AIPAC conference for the last few years and spent last summer in Israel. He reads the news regularly, he said, especially “all the articles about Israel and the conflict. It’s the only issue I have a say in, and it’s what I pay attention to.”
This year the Novick family had hosted one of the Israeli “rishonim” — young shlihim — who represent the country through a federation program. The former emissary called the family from Israel just before the rally. “He was very somber,” said Josh.
Also attending was Elizabeth Gooen of Randolph, a student at Smith College majoring in government. She is working for NJ State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Dist. 27) this summer. “I would really like Hamas to be completely taken down in this situation,” she said.
Gooen added that she would like Palestinian children to have “access to education not sponsored by terrorists,” and to see “young women rise up. There have to be some Malalas out there,” she added, referring to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Muslim girl known for her outspoken views on the issue of education for girls in her home country.
Susan and Howard Mandelbaum of Lake Hopatcong said they have visited Israel 10 times and plan to return in December. They came to the rally to show their solidarity with the Jewish state. “The world does not accept that Israel has a right to get rid of Hamas,” said Susan.
Her husband added: “I’d like to see Israel exist without being threatened on a daily basis. I’d like to see Hamas demilitarized, and I’d like to see Hamas destroyed.”
Ellen Brick, a retiree from Livingston, came with her two granddaughters, Ayelet and Shlomit Jourdan from Kansas City, Mo. Asked why they came, Ayelet, little more than a toddler, waved her small Israeli flag and said, “It’s about Israel.” Her grandmother added, “We came to support our family and friends and to send our love to Israel.”
Other dignitaries who spoke at the event included NJ State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R-Dist. 21); Dr. Terry L. Richardson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Orange; and CRC chair Gordon Haas.