Five Towners rally for Israel

Synagogues, community groups show solidarity amid strife in Middle East


In a demonstration of their solidarity with Israel, members of nearly 20 Five Towns synagogues and Jewish organizations, along with more than 150 other residents, gathered at Congregation Beth Shalom in Lawrence on Monday, after the latest round of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

After eight days of fighting along the Israel-Gaza border, a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas went into effect on Nov. 21. The hostilities were considered the bloodiest between Hamas and Israel in four years.

“We feel Israel had no choice but to go in and clean up that mess,” said Village of Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner, a member of several Jewish organizations, including Religious Zionists of America.

Despite the truce, which was tested on Nov. 23 when Israeli troops fired on Gazans moving toward Israel’s border fence, killing one of them, speakers and attendees were no less vocal about the need for Israel to defend itself. “Everybody loves to have a peaceful solution; we pray for peace,” said Rabbi Gedaliah Oppen, a native of Israel who is now principal of Judaic studies at the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway. “Unfortunately, we are dealing with terrorists, with a group of people with one mission: to kill as many Jews all over the world.”

The rally, organized by the JCC of the Greater Five Towns, featured a speech by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The conference is an umbrella organization of approximately 100 U.S.-based Jewish groups.

Hoenlein, who had just returned from Israel Monday morning, gave a wide-ranging address that included the most up-to-date information he had received from Israeli officials, some Jewish history and a delineation of what he believes are the primary factors powering the latest wave of instability in the Middle East.

“This is another phase in a long series of conflicts,” Hoenlein said, stressing the importance of solidarity with Israel.

He pointed to the high unemployment rate in most Arab nations, which fuels protests that erupt into violence; the failed nations of Syria and Libya; and the battle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims as the major reasons for the recent uprisings in the region.

“We cannot become complacent,” he said. “We must express solidarity with the people of Israel and stand together as one people, one heart.”

U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who spoke briefly before Hoenlein, said that supporting Israel is a bipartisan issue. “People have to realize Israel is the democracy in the Middle East,” McCarthy said, adding that she would be traveling to Israel in the near future as part of a military junket. “We will be there for Israel.”

Showing support for Israel is important to Cedarhurst resident Simon Kaye, a Beth Shalom congregant. “We need to show solidarity with the only democratic ally of the United States in the Middle East,” Kaye said. “Our voices need to be heard and not drowned out by the viciousness of the other side.”

Rabbi Nochem Tenenboim, co-director of the Chabad of Hewlett, said he believes that the battles between Israel and its enemies have global implications. “This is a very, very important fight between Israel and Hamas because it’s a fight against terror, not only for Jews, but for everyone else,” Tenenboim said.