To educate and mobilize the community in preparation for the Israel Solidarity Rally to be held at noon on Friday, January 9 at Federal Plaza (Dearborn and Adams Streets in Chicago), two update briefings were scheduled to bring the community up to date on events in Israel as well as JUF’s response and advocacy initiatives.
The first community update briefing took place Wednesday evening at North Shore Congregation Israel (NSCI) in Glencoe. Synagogue president Rob Olian welcomed the attendees and thanked JUF for initiating the gathering.
The meeting was led by Dana Gordon, co-chair of Israel and International Affairs Commission of JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council, and a member of North Shore Congregation Israel’s board of trustees.
Israel’s recent ground invasion of Gaza was triggered at the end of 2008 when Hamas ended the “largely ambiguous” ceasefire with Israel and renewed intense rocket attacks on Israel, Gordon said.
Steven B. Nasatir, president the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, spoke of the partnership between JUF/JF and Chicago-area synagogues. He stressed the importance of a large turn-out at Friday’s rally and stated that this week, Israel Solidarity rallies are taking place across North America.
“Israel is core and central to what this Jewish agency is about,” Nasatir said, describing the support that JUF/JF provides to Israel. The Federation has provided $10 million for immediate relief and social welfare services, such as trauma relief and therapy, support packages, and overnight respite, especially for children.
Gershon Kedar, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, discussed the current situation in Israel, stating that while Israel exhibited restraint during the ceasefire, Hamas smuggled arms into Gaza.
“The Grad and Katyusha rockets Hamas received from Iran were stored in civilian homes and schools, and used in congested areas, such as when parents picked up their children from school,” Kedar said. “Hamas members, who use women, children and the elderly as human shields, cannot be compared to IDF soldiers, who warn civilians prior to an attack.”
Rabbi Steve Mason of NSCI reflected on his recent visit to Israel as part of the NSCI/JUF Mission.
“Besides the obvious military operation, we also detected a large-scale human services operation where people who were under stress due to the rockets could find respite,” he said. “Israelis expressed extreme pride in the care that the IDF was taking,” he said, urging attendees to read news sources such as Ha’Aretz and The Jerusalem Post for accurate reports of events in Israel.
Jay Tcath, JUF/JF Senior Vice President for Public Affairs spoke about Israel advocacy on college campuses, stating that in February, JCRC is launching the first non-Hillel campus Israel initiative to complement the existing JCRC-Hillel campus advocacy program.
Tcath praised the level of support for Israel being shown by Illinois elected officials, and cited the statement released by Illinois lawmakers supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. One of the signatories, State Representative Karen May, attended last night’s meeting. He also read excerpts from two supportive Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times editorials.
“We all need to be advocates for Israel,” Tcath said, stressing the importance of reaching out to those who are undecided about the conflict when it comes to moving public opinion regarding Israel.
Another community meeting takes place tonight at 7 p.m. at Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3571 N. Broadway, Chicago. Both meetings were organized by JUF with the cooperation of the Midwest Consul General of Israel.