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Up to 3,000 attend City-Wide Rally Friday

JUF's “We Stand With Israel Community Rally” a strong showing of solidarity.

Nasatir at Rally 1-9 image
JUF/JF President Steven B. Nasatir addressing the Israel solidarity rally Jan. 9, 2009, in Chicago.

We Stand With Israel

Three thousand Chicagoans braved cold, snowy weather to gather in Federal Plaza Jan. 9 to show their solidarity with Israel as it defends its citizens against the terror of Hamas in Gaza. (Watch a video of the rally.)

Sponsored by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF/JF), the “We Stand With Israel Community Rally,” was one of 200 rallies all across North America organized as part of a Week of Solidarity in early January. To help educate and mobilize the community in Chicago, two community gatherings were held in advance of the rally at North Shore Congregation Israel and Anshe Emet Synagogue.

In addition to the thousands of community members who waved Israeli flags and held signs proclaiming “Stop Hamas Terror” and “Let Israel Live in Peace,” many Chicago-area synagogues and Jewish organizations gathered at the rally, some arriving by the busload. Also attending were Illinois State Senator Jeff Schoenberg, Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley and Alderman Robert Fioretti, representatives from several Christian organizations and members of the Chicago Police Department. 

He who makes peace

Spirits were high as Cantor Larry Goller, President of the Cantors Assembly of the Midwest and Cantor at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, led the crowd in Oseh Shalom (He who makes peace). David Sherman, chairman of the JUF Board of Directors, welcomed participants.

“It is so good and so important that together we are standing here, united and strong!” he said. “We are stronger when united, and today, we are united as ever!”

Following the singing of the Israeli and U.S. National Anthems, Steven B. Nasatir, JUF/JF president, delivered a strong message of support for Israel and condemnation of the actions of Hamas. 

"Unlike our festive Israel@60 gatherings, this is a time of solidarity, not celebration,” he began. “Whenever precious human lives are lost—whoever they are and wherever they live—Jews do not celebrate. And that is the difference between us and the enemy Israel faces today.

“Three years ago Israel unilaterally left Gaza, providing the Palestinians the opportunity to build, flourish and grow. Instead, Hamas took over and pursued destruction and death, turning Gaza into a 24/7 missile launching pad against Israeli civilians.”

For eight years, he said, the people of Sderot have lived under the constant threat of rocket fire, and today, Hamas has rockets that can reach as far as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheva and Kiryat Gat, Chicago’s own Partnership 2000 region . (read more about the situation in Sderot and Kiryat Gat)

“It is incomprehensible that this passes for ‘normal’ for Sderot’s children,” Nasatir said. “It is incomprehensible that—60 years after the birth of the modern State of Israel—we are still defending Israel’s right to exist in the court of world opinion and on the streets of Chicago!

“Let’s say it plainly. This is not about a two-state solution—it’s about an attempt to destroy the State of Israel. It is important that Israelis know they are not alone," Nasatir said, "and that our community will stand with them and speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

“From this rally we will return to our homes to bring in Shabbat Shalom, the peace of the Sabbath. When we bless our children tonight at our Shabbos table, we will all have in mind that son of all the Jewish people, Gilad Shalit, who still languishes as a Hamas hostage. Let Gilad go home to his family and to his Shabbat table. That is what we say to the world. Let all of our children go home to their families’ tables, and let us all live in peace.”

‘This is not a horror movie’

Following Nasatir’s call for peace, the Honorable Orli Gil, Israel’s Consul General to the Midwest, spoke about a young Israeli boy injured in Sderot during a recent rocket attack launched by Hamas.

“This is not a horror movie, but this is the reality in the south of Israel for the past eight years,” she said. “Hamas has no interest in peace. Hamas has no interest in good neighborly relations. Hamas has no interest in prosperity.”

Now, she said, one million Israeli citizens are living in the battle zone.

“Let it be said loud and clear: We’re not at war with the Palestinian people. We are not at war with the innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip. We are at war with a shrewd, ruthless terrorist movement that has managed to sieze ruling power in Gaza by force.

“The international community must understand that any agreement to end this war must meet Israel’s objective to change the security reality in the south of Israel so that Hamas can never again threaten the citizens of Israel.”

‘We are going to win this war’

The two most senior Israeli diplomats, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sallai Meridor, both prepared video statements for the rally.

“Israel was established 60 years ago, but yet, unfortunately, Israel needs to fight for its existence,” Livni said. “We need to fight because Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We need to fight because Israel is the only Jewish state in the world. And we are going to win this war.

“Israel does not ask the international community to fight this war for us, we just need the understanding…The understanding that what we are doing here is fighting terror, the understanding that according to our values we try to avoid and prevent any kind of civilian casualties, to understand that according to our values we try during the fight to keep the humanitarian state in the Gaza strip as well as we can. Because this is what we are, this is what the state of Israel was established upon; this is what we believe in.”

Meridor’s statement followed: “In this war against terror the front is first and foremost in Israel in the south,” he said. “But it’s not only there. It’s every place in the world. It is here in Chicago. And in this front, you are the soldiers, you are the officers and there in Chicago you are sending a very important message to the terrorists that terror will not prevail. A message to everybody in the world that you will not accept the double standard and Israel will have the right to defend itself and America will stand with Israel in the search for peace.”

Alan Solow, who will assume his new position as the Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations next month, reflected on his recent trip to Israel with the organization just last weekend.

His first stop was Sderot, where a rocket landed just a block away during his visit.

“It was a close call.  But I knew I was safe, and that I was leaving," he recalled. "The citizens of Sderot, as well as those in Ashkelon where I visited later that evening, can’t leave. They must suffer the constant attacks from Hamas. Nobody should have to live under siege day after day, year after year. After exhibiting patience beyond measure, Israel concluded that its only choice was to protect its citizens.”

Solow also had the opportunity to meet with Israel’s political leadership, who he said are united in their defense of a safe and secure Israel.

“Their demands are simple,” he said, “no more rocket fire and an end to the resupply of arms to Hamas by smuggling through tunnels. Israel has no territorial ambitions.  It only wants a peaceful existence. The issue is not complex.  It is simple. It requires no detailed analysis. All people of good will should insist that Hamas stop firing rockets.”

Statements of support

Midge Perlman Shafton, chair of JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council, expressed gratitude to the numerous Illinois elected officials who declared strong statements of support  for Israel and read excerpts of statements from , Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Mark Kirk and Congressman Jessie Jackson, Jr .

“Today I stand with Israel,” said Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, “and I stand with the U.S. Senate who just yesterday reaffirmed Israel’s inalienable right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza.”

“There is a universal principle and a universal value at stake here and it affects each and every one of us,” Illinois State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg said. “And we must stand together, regardless of who we are, where we live what our beliefs are, we must stand together with Israel.” 

This year’s co-chairs of JUF’s Rabbinic Action Committee, Rabbi Zev Shandalov of Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel and Rabbi Sidney Helbraun of Temple Beth El shared some reflections on the situation in Gaza and led the crowd in a prayer for the State of Israel.

The rally concluded with a rousing rendition of Am Yisrael Chai—The people of Israel live.

While waiting for the rally to begin, JUF News asked several participants to reflect on why they came out to stand with Israel today:

 “We stand in solidarity with Israel, to help Israel get to a place where it can live in peace with its neighbors. Israel needs to be able to devote all of its energy to making life better, not to be putting all of its money into defense to keep its citizens. Israel needs to be safe and secure in peace.”
George Goldstein, Lincolnshire

 “Here in Chicago, we’re so far away from Israel and there is not so much we can do here. It’s so nice that we can get together here and show our support for Israel…and learn about what is going and understand the situation and be with other people that feel the same way and show the world that there are lots of people that feel the same way that we do.”
Laura Allswang, Skokie

 “All politics is local. Everything that happens in Israel is local with the Jewish people all around the world. My aunt and uncle were almost killed by Hamas when a rocket landed just down the street from their home in Ashdod this Tuesday morning. This is a proximal war and it’s been a proximal war for more than 6 decades. Israel continues to extend its hand in peace and we’re here to say that we hope that there will be peace soon.”
Rabbi Zvi Engel, spiritual leader of Congregation Or Torah in Skokie

 “I was in the Israel army from September `05 to September `07. I am a dual citizen American-Israel. I’m here to support Israel and support my fellow soldiers fighting for Israel.”
Dana Feldman, Highland Park

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