Jewish Federation & Foundation

Rockland County Stands Shoulder-To-Shoulder In Support Of Israel At Nighttime Rally

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Jewish Federation Of Rockland County Seeks Support And Monetary Aid For Israelis

By Tina Traster

Wailing sirens from Israel. Faces of hostages taken over the weekend. Jewish prayers spoken in Hebrew. Candles lit as far as the eye can see. In sound, images, song, and declarations of unity and allegiance to Israel, and condemnation of the terrorist group Hamas, Rockland County stood shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday night in front of the county courthouse. More than 1,000 people rallied, cried, sung, including Jewish youth and synagogue cantors, to express collective anguish, disbelief, and horror at an atrocity not witnessed by the people of Israel in 50 years.

“Stand and be counted supporting the right of our families to live in peace in their ancestral homeland, or stand and be counted supporting our allies, friends and neighbors in their time of pain and need,” roared a shaken and angry Ari Rosenblum, director of Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County.

The nearly 90-minute rally and candlelight vigil were reminders that the largely secular Jewish community in Rockland County is strong and united and hurting. Steve Gold, a prominent leader in the Jewish community who led the rally said: “it’s horrible that we’re meeting here.” His voice quickly became shaky when he mentioned that his own father had been a Holocaust survivor who knew what it meant to see people you love ripped from the arms of their family and slaughtered.

Hamas’s weekend attack on civilians included the innocent butcher and capture of men, women, and children. To date more than 1,000 Israelis have been killed and 150 are estimated to have been kidnapped, though there is little information about whether they are alive, and if they are, where they are.

County Executive Ed Day said county flags are flying at half-staff. He called Hamas “pure evil,” and said “Israel is our staunch ally.”

To mark the close and unwavering friendship and long-time commitment between the United States and Israel, the rally was punctuated with the raising of an American flag, lifted on the ladder of a firetruck brought voluntarily to the rally from the Hillcrest Fire Company.

“We did not ask, we did not know,” said Gold, referring to Hillcrest’s gesture.

When cantors joined together in the “Star Spangled Banner,” it was a reminder of the close divide between Israel and America, and what it means to be an American Jew. And perhaps a moment for those in Rockland County to engage in self-reflection because there is no shortage of antisemitism in the county, even when it’s cloaked in political rhetoric.

As it has been unbearable to see the faces of those taken hostage on CNN and other media, it was all the more visceral when leaders of Jewish youth fanned out on the stage holding photos of Israelis who were stolen from their daily, and once thought to be secure, lives. It was gut-punching; nearly impossible to imagine what it must be like for little children, babies, to be living in capture.

Marcy Pressman, president of Jewish Federation, said her son’s grandfather liked to say “When times are good, it’s easy to think you have a lot of friends. But when times are tough, you find out who your friends are.”

We as a nation, like people around the world, are trying to absorb the shock of what has occurred, and the war that is now full-blown. When Pressman introduced representatives of the Muslim and LBGTQ community, she said they are here “at risk to themselves and their organizations.” What she was saying is that we are not all necessarily united in our thinking about Israel and its place in the world.

Nobody was more visibly shaken than Rosenblum, saying “Places where I have visited several times, like Sderot, Netiv, Haasara and Nir Am, I’ve watched families play in their playgrounds with caterpillar-shaped bomb shelters and menorahs built of spent rockets.” The imagery Rosenblum limns is unsettling, referring to what a backyard look like during peace time. “Now mortars are littered in the smoldering wreckage, and the smell of death is like something in a bad dream.” The barrage of images the world has seen of Hamas militants slaughtering kids at a concert or obliterating a population are akin to pogroms and Nazi Germany.

“The Jewish people rise from the fire, every time,” Rosenblum said. “More determined. More united. And though wounded, saddened, and angered, we know that even as Hamas wrote the first chapter of the 2023 Gaza war, Israel and the Jewish nation will write the final chapter.

The Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County is asking people to help Israel through a donation through an Israel Emergency Appeal.