New York really loves Israel.
As one of at least 10,000 people who packed an entire Manhattan city block between 1st and 2nd avenues yesterday, 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 held at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (a few hundred) steps from the United Nations, mobilized Jews from all over the tri-state area and beyond — as well as 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 the rally had its share of politicians, the audience was also treated to performances by the Maccabeats, the famed Yeshiva University a cappella group who belted out classics such as “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” and “Am Yisrael Chai.”
One of the most telling moments to me was 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 bastion of human rights and symbol of all that is wrong with the composition of the United Nations? That diplomatic emissaries could gaze down from their office and see thousands of Jews rallying for one of the few countries that actually upholds basic human rights principles, a nation that basically 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 didn’t escape me.
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 ground invasion, American Jews such as myself have been feeling incredibly helpless — and perhaps just a bit guilty that we are over here while thousands of IDF soldiers — many young enough to be our own sons — are on the front lines. We light extra candles, we send over basic items such as socks and underwear for the chayalim in the field, we recite extra tehillim. But the reality is we are more than resting comfortable in the United States while Israelis are bearing the brunt of the conflict. Could Americans imagine families running to bomb shelters in the middle of the night with as little as 15 seconds to spare and worrying about their older sons and daughters 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.