St. Louis rallies for Israel

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Peace and unity were the themes of the local rally for Israel held July 18. The people of St. Louis stand for peace in solidarity with Israel, said Dr. Heschel Raskas, president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis in welcoming an estimated 2,000 St. Louisans to the Community Solidarity Rally. The event, convened by the Jewish Federation and coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council, was held in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community Center when the overwhelming turnout exceeded the capacity of the JCC’s Pasternak Auditorium.

Addressing the emotional and responsive audience in a loud, clear voice, Raskas said, “We are outraged at the unprovoked and deliberate attacks against Israel and the kidnapping of its soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their rocket attacks against innocent people. We are also heartbroken not only over the deaths and injuries among Israelis, but those suffered by innocent Palestinians and Lebanese, who have been betrayed by their own leaders.”

Raskas said it was “unacceptable” for sovereign nations to “say over and over that they want Israel wiped off the map. As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said to the Knesset, no more! Israel will not be held hostage to terrorists and their sponsors!”

Both Raskas and Terry Bloomberg, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, and JCRC executive director Batya-Abramson Goldstein took note of the advantages of a coordinated team effort to convene such a huge rally on such short notice. “Our ability to act collectively is our strength,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “As a federated community we can convene quickly.”

Rosenberg praised the hard work of the JCRC and Federation staffs who helped make the rally happen.

“The big point here is that the strength and success of the Jewish people is built on collective action. The Federation and JCRC are the two instruments of action around Israel, and I think the response at the event is a testimony to the collective work that we do.” Rosenberg pointed out that the rally was one of many such events across the United States and Canada and that “hundreds and perhaps thousands of political leaders are being impacted by the message. Israel is seeing the impact of thousands of people coming together to express their support, to provide financial assistance, and to come together as a collectivity to make an impact.”

Interviewed after the event, Abramson-Goldstein noted “the participation of leadership from the general community, including state and local officials, who came together with faith and civic leaders to stand with Israel. The magnificent turnout was a visible expression of the community’s deep concern over the current crisis, and its desire and need to stand together to express solidarity with Israel. From babes-in-arms to senior citizens, our community turned out in support of peace and Israel.”

Bloomberg noted that her family name is Goldwasser, the same as the last name of one of the captured Israeli soldiers. “I do not know if we are actually related,” Bloomberg said. “But to me it is a reminder that among Jews and Israelis there is only one degree of separation. We are all indeed one people, and this rally and the follow-up actions we can take are evidence of that reality.”

David Guttwein, 24, a third-year student at the Washington University School of Law, served as a volunteer at the rally, collecting e-mail addresses to make sure those who attended the rally can stay in touch. “I wanted to do something to help out as soon as possible, and this is how I can help Israel immediately to deal with the current emergency.”

Ann Tullman, a veteran Jewish educator, who had taught for 22 years at the Epstein Hebrew Academy and who is a former director of the Jewish Community High School and the religious school at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, said, “I felt a strong need to come together with other members of our Jewish community to connect with other Jews and to demonstrate my own support to our brothers and sisters in Israel. I found the rally to be emotionally powerful and meaningful.”

The main speaker at the rally was Barukh Binah, the Chicago-based consul general to the Midwest, who was visibly moved by the huge turnout and his fellow speakers at the event. “Dear friends, I am thrilled and truly humbled by this affection and support for Israel. I can feel the outpouring of your strong support and understanding at this critical time.”

Speaking personally more than officially, Binah’s voice cracked with emotion when he described talking to one of his daughters at the Technion Institute of Technology at Haifa. “It was the first time for my wife and me to be in the safety of Chicago while our two daughters were in Israel. Haifa and other cities, towns, kibbutzim and moshavim have been hit by Hezbollah Katyusha rockets from the north. Hamas rockets had been fired for months from the Gaza into Israel.

“Israel is no longer in Gaza and no longer in Lebanon,” Binah stated. “Israel withdrew from Lebanon six years ago even to the full satisfaction of the United Nations. We withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip last year. These unprovoked attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas cannot and will not be tolerated,” Binah said to strong applause. “We will act within our right of self-defense. Qassem rockets will not be fired on Israel from the south and Katyusha rockets will not be fired from the north.”

Pointing out that Haifa, Israel’s largest city has been repeatedly hit with Hezbollah rockets, Binah said, “How would the United States react if Chicago, its third largest city, was been attacked? How would France respond if such attacks were hitting Lyons?”

Binah urged those in attendance “continue to stand up for Israel. For the conflict to end, we must have all of our kidnapped soldiers back; Hezbollah must move away from our northern border, and the Lebanese Army must fulfill its obligation to provide security at its southern border with Israel. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart, and we shall overcome!”

All streams of Judaism were represented in the program and in the audience at the rally. Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel, president of the Association of Reform Rabbis, led the audience in a reading of Psalm 121. Rabbi Yosef Landa, director of St. Louis Chabad and chairman of the St. Louis Rabbinical Council, led a similar reading of Psalm 122. Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek and president of the Rabbinical Assembly of St. Louis offered the Prayer for the State of Israel. Dr. Ethan Schuman, cantor of Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, chanted El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish prayer for the dead in memory of those killed in the conflict, and a prayer for the safe return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

Eldad Bialecki of the JCRC’s St. Louis Connection and Tal Stadler of Bayit Israel read out the names of those killed and captured in the conflict as photographs of those whose names were read were shown on a large screen.

Rev. Dr. David M. Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary, described a hopeful trip that he and colleagues among mainstream Protestant churches had taken to the State of Israel under the auspices of the Jewish Community Relations Councils around the nation. “I can recall standing at the Sea of Galilee at the time of the Gaza withdrawal. The water was still, almost like glass. I can recall how hopeful we were that the Gaza withdrawal would lead to peace, to a two-state solution with Israel and a state of Palestine living side by side in peace. I tried not to listen to those who mumbled that it would not happen, that they had seen hope dashed so many times before. Now that very region of the Sea of Galilee has been hit by rockets. It is hard for us, and we are grieving.

“One thing is certain. Any talk of the destruction of the State of Israel is absolutely unacceptable. The Prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Peace, peace, but there is no peace!’ Any peace must be a real peace, for which we all pray I implore all of us to pray for such a peace.”

Sign up for Your Morning Light