In a show of support cutting across denominational lines, 650 people turned out for a boisterous and hastily arranged solidarity event for Israel.
The gathering at Young Israel of East Brunswick — held Nov. 18, the fourth day of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense — featured Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12).
Participants dropped donations into large bowls held by volunteers and stopped to browse at tables selling Judaica from the sisterhood’s gift shop. A portion of each sale helped raise $6,500 for the Israel Emergency Relief Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, which cosponsored the event with the synagogue. These monies were allocated to Yashar LaChayal, which distributed over 5,000 neck warmers, 3,000 woolen hats, thousands of pairs of gloves, underwear, and socks to those in harm’s way.
Funds were also sent to the federation’s overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to provide emergency kits for the elderly and the disabled living near Gaza. The kits included essential items — a flashlight, a transistor radio, batteries, a first aid kit, a small fleece blanket, and bottled water.
Many people with physical disabilities chose to remain in their safe areas throughout the conflict so as not to have to struggle repeatedly with their mobility difficulties. To make their time in the safe areas as comfortable as possible, 125 portable toilet kits were distributed, providing a critical way for such individuals to maintain their independence and dignity.
Schools within 40 kilometers of Gaza were closed for the duration of the conflict, forcing children to spend prolonged periods in public shelters. To allow parents to continue to work where possible, over 1,000 volunteers ran programs for children, and 500 activity kits — with arts and crafts, games, and other supplies — were distributed by the federation partners.
Hoenlein had been scheduled to speak at the synagogue when Israel launched its strikes on Hamas terror targets in response to a barrage of rockets on southern Israel. Three days before the program the synagogue reached out to the federation to make it a communitywide program, according to Rabbi Jay Weinstein.
A flurry of e-mails to synagogues, community leaders, and groups generated a huge response as evidenced by the federation leaders and rabbis and lay leaders of the different religious streams who stepped onto the bima of the Orthodox synagogue to offer support.
“The Young Israel of East Brunswick was honored to host this event in which the entire community was able to stand together and say, ‘Am Yisrael chai,’” Weinstein told NJJN. “We hope that the citizens of Israel are able to hear our message: We stand behind you and support you.”
Hoenlein noted the importance of solidarity at a time when the Arab world is engulfed in infighting, many Middle Eastern countries are turning hard-line in the aftermath of the Arab spring, Hamas is threatening to destroy Israel, and Iran is inching closer to nuclear capability.
When Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says his country “wants to wipe Israel off the map,” said Hoenlein, “he means it…. Those missiles being fired today into Tel Aviv were made in Iran.”
Hoenlein described an “axis of evil” stretching from South America to Asia to the Middle East as the Muslim Brotherhood shores up its power and moderate Arab states live in fear of Iran and other radical forces.
Meanwhile, Hoenlein said, Hamas and other militant groups gain sympathy through such tactics as passing off counterfeit photos of child casualties. “When Hitler told us in 1924 in Mein Kampf, we didn’t listen,” said Hoenlein.
In his remarks, Holt termed Hamas’s actions “intolerable.”
“All the world must understand there is no moral equivalency between Israel defending her people and terrorists bent on her destruction,” said Holt to thunderous applause.
Holt spoke of the “deep friendship” between the United States and Israel and said he had spoken to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about the situation.
While the United States “wants Israel to have a military advantage” there is also an understanding that there must be a lasting peace for Israel to be secure, he said.
Federation president Seth Gross read a letter of support from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and said he also contacted the office of Vice President Joseph Biden and was told to pass along the vice president’s backing for the event.
A letter of support from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6) was also read by Rabbi Eric Milgrim of Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick.