At the start of a ceasefire between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, religious leaders and supporters of Israel gathered on May 20 at Congregation Ohav Sholom in Merrick to voice their support for the country.
The ceasefire took effect at 2 a.m. May 21 in the region — the same time that the Merrick rally began at 7 p.m. Israel is seven hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.
The rally followed more than 10 days of fighting that claimed the lives of hundreds, including 12 Israelis and more than 230 in Gaza, many of them civilians (see box, Page 3).
Jewish and other religious leaders, elected leaders and more than 100 local residents were unified in their condemnation of the violence in the region. Among the leaders of Jewish organizations were Rabbi Ira Ebbin of Congregation Ohav Sholom, Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre, Rabbi Shimon Kramer of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, Rabbi Dov Winston of Young Israel of Merrick, Rabbi Mickey Baum of Temple Beth Am and Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein of Congregation Beth Ohr. They were joined by Christian leaders, including the Rev. Nikiforos Fakinos of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, and seminarian Patrick O’Brien, who serves at Curé of Ars in Merrick.
Ameer Benno, president of the Merrick-Bellmore Jewish Community Council, organized the event.
“We’re here to send a message that America should continue to provide unwavering support to Israel in its fight against Hamas and any other group that seeks to attack, harm or destroy the Jewish state,” Benno said.
Before sharply condeming those who stand against Israel and the Jewish faith, Klein recognized the historic moment of the gathering on stage.
“I’ve had, over the years, the opportunity to be at many of these rallies, but tonight is different,” Klein said. “Tonight, here, assembled, is a bipartisan statement of love, support and affection for the state of Israel. We’ve never seen that before in Merrick and Bellmore — never in my 44 years” here.
“And also, never in my 44 years here have we seen two members of the Christian clergy come to a rally on behalf of Israel,” Klein continued. “This is an extraordinary moment.”
“First and foremost, allow me to express on behalf of our entire congregation, just across the street, just three words: We love you,” Fakinos said. “Our agonizing supplication to God is that peace is restored, and that sacred holy land is treated as a holy place where people can live and families — just like our families here — can wake up in the morning not fearing terrorist attacks or any turmoil.”
“We are with you, we stand with you, and we stand with Israel,” O’Brien said. “Our community gives our prayers tonight in hopes of peace.”
Ebbin, the leader of the congregation that the crowd stood before, offered a booming speech that condemned those who oppose Israel.
“I particularly want to thank those who are not members of the tribes. Those who are not of the Jewish faith, our fathers, the members of the Christian clergy and many others,” Ebbin said. “These days it’s difficult to know who our friends are, and it’s wonderful to see you all here.
“I am here for my grandfather and those of that generation, but I’m also here for my children, and God willing someday, my grandchildren,” Ebbin continued. “I’m here to tell them that the world may have lost its moral compass, but we have not; that media and the Twitter-haters will spread their lies and their anti-Semitism; they will blame the victims but not the bully; they will call Hamas Islamists and not what they really are — terrorists.”
Other religious leaders offered their prayers. Winston was the first guest to speak and led the crowd in prayer, and Baum and Bernstein took to the lectern together to lead closing prayers.
Elected leaders from across the aisle also joined the rally, including State Assemblyman Dave McDonough, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Legislator Steve Rhoads, and Town of Hempstead Councilmen Bruce Blakeman and Chris Carini.
A representative of the office of Rep. Kathleen Rice joined as well. The following weekend, roughly 300 people gathered in front of Rice’s office in Garden City with signs that read, “Free Palestine” and “End the Apartheid,” according to Newsday.
At the Thursday pro-Israel rally, Israel supporters said the country has a right to defend itself from Hamas attacks.
“We believe that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself,” said Ali Goldsmith, a congregant of the Merrick Jewish Centre. “I don’t want anyone hurt on either side. But when a government is run by extremists, it’s hard to come to a solution in the long run.”
“When missiles are fired with the intent of killing men, women and children, and no one else cares,” Klein said, “and people say Israel should stand back and absorb that pain, destruction and death, we say that’s not the response you can expect from Israel or any other sovereign state in this world.”