Thousands of Chicagoans rally for Israel

Israel Rally July 2014

Photo by Robert F. Kusel

Some 2,000 Chicagoans stood united with Israel Monday morning at a rally supporting the Jewish homeland’s right to defend itself from Hamas terror attacks.

Sponsored by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the event brought together Jewish leaders, elected officials and Chicago’s Jewish community outside the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., to join in words of support, calls for action and prayers for peace. (View photos from the rally)

“We share Israel’s desire for peace, support her right to defend herself and pledge our abiding solidarity now and forever,” said JUF/Federation President Steven B. Nasatir. (Watch Nasatir's speech)

Young and old, Israeli and American, people representing every corner of Chicago’s Jewish community crowded the plaza waving flags, holdings signs and vocalizing their support, including singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and other Jewish and Israeli anthems.

Recently returned from chairing a national solidarity mission to Israel, JUF Chairman of the Board David T. Brown began the rally by sharing stories of his experience during the crisis, including encountering the family of a fallen soldier and being among the thousands at his funeral. (Watch Brown's speech)

“As your Chicago representative being there at this time, I’m proud to say that I’m proud of the state of Israel, I’m proud of the people of Israel, and I’m proud of our IDF soldiers who are defending the state of Israel,” he said.

Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Brad Schneider then spoke, reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense and voicing the need for a complete demilitarization of Hamas in Gaza.

“We should not have a cease-fire until Hamas is militarily defeated by the IDF, our allies in Israel,” Kirk said. “The only way we can bring peace to that area is to defeat those who bring terror to the Middle East.”

Both Kirk and Schneider assured the crowd of the U.S. government’s support of Israel during this crisis and beyond.

“We are here as one people to say in a strong, clear voice, the United States has no better ally in the region, in fact no better ally in the world, than the democratic, Jewish state of Israel,” Schneider said.

Also offering supportive words were Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Roey Gilad, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Rev. Roosevelt Watkins III of Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church on the South Side. Also present were State Sen. Ira Silverstein, State Rep. Lou Lang, Alderman Debra Silverstein, Canadian Consul Scott McCook, Pastor Chris Harris and Elder Jeffrey Hodges. Those who could not attend offered comments from afar, such as AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer.

“No nation can tolerate wanton rocket attacks on its civilian population,” Bayer wrote ahead of Monday’s rally. “Hamas’ relentless assaults on Israel have provoked a dangerous and deadly conflict that has had tragic consequences for all involved. We support Israel in its quest for peace and security”

Nasatir addressed these leaders as he described the Chicago Jewish community’s commitment to Israel.

“Before you here today is an inspired and committed community, one that proudly affirms we stand with Israel,” he said.

Nasatir also urged those in attendance to translate their solidarity into action. Among the many ways, he called for individuals to stay informed and become educated ambassadors for Israel, reach out to friends and family there to offer comfort, share their support with elected officials and finally to travel to Israel. “Any time, any way, just get there,” he said.

While Brown was in Israel, he saw firsthand the impact that JUF has had on Israel through its long-standing support as well as the recently launched Israel Emergency Campaign.

“The direct care for the elderly, for the disabled, for the young people, the respite services, especially for the young …The impact upon the community has been tremendous,” Brown said.

Israelis present at the rally say they felt supported and hopeful by the size and spirit of the crowd.

"The world seems indifferent to Israel, but coming to this rally makes me more confident in our people," said former IDF soldier Michal Rabinowitch. "We will win, as we always have."

The rally concluded with a reading of the names of the Israeli soldiers who have fallen since the start of Operation Protective Edge, with prayers led by Cantor Stuart Simon of Am Yisrael and Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, Rabbi Emerita of B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom.

JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council Chairman Skip Schrayer emceed the rally.

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