Over there, war rages on. Over here, the Jewish community has proclaimed its support for Israel and a desire for peace.
Various Bay Area synagogues, Jewish agencies and institutions have staged rallies, prayer vigils and gatherings of solidarity.
StandWithUs, SF Voice for Israel and the Zionist Organization of America turned out 100 flag-waving counterprotesters at a July 12 anti-Israel rally at San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza.
Sam Levine, executive director of ZOA’s Western region, said the pro-Israel side was extremely spirited though outnumbered 5-1.
“We had our chants: ‘We want peace, Hamas wants war,’ ‘Free Gaza from Hamas,’ ‘Stop using human shields,’ ” Levine said. “They were much louder than us. They flipped us off and burned an Israeli flag.”
Levine was “happy to report” that the noontime Saturday rally was “much more peaceful” than one held five days earlier in front of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco, during which “aggressive, anti-Israeli protesters got in our faces and cursed at us, threatening violence.” On July 12, a large police presence kept the two sides safely apart.
This Sunday, July 20, a gathering to “stand with the people of Israel” is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. The 90-minute event will include remarks from community leaders, including Andy David, consul general for Israel, and local politicians, and music. It is being organized by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Community Federation along with the Board of Rabbis of Northern California. <Click here for more information>
In the South Bay, a community gathering in support of Israel has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 22 at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga. Speakers include Eyal Naor, deputy counsel general of the S.F.-based Israeli consulate, rabbis and community members. No fewer than 13 Jewish agencies and organizations have signed on as co-sponsors. For more information, call (408) 257-3333.
In the East Bay, a communitywide event was quickly organized last week, with eight synagogues joining with the Jewish Federation of the East Bay for a “Shabbat of Solidarity.” At services either on Friday night or Saturday, each synagogue included prayers for peace and updates about the war.
“We had a huge turnout of around 300 people,” said Rabbi Roberto Graetz of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. “I spoke on the subject in my sermon, and we included prayers and poetry related to our connection to the land of Israel. It was very well received. People were very emotional.”
At Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, some 200 people attended. “We talked about human suffering,” Rabbi Yoel Kahn said, “and having compassion for [Israelis] in bomb shelters, and people in Gaza who have no bomb shelters.”
A large gathering was held July 16 at Temple Sinai in Oakland, and more than 400 people showed up, according to organizers, who called the event “moving” in an email the next day. “”The presence of so many individuals shows that our community stands with the people of Israel during this time of crisis,” they added.
Organized by the federation and co-sponsored by 25 Jewish entities (synagogues, day schools and agencies), the event was billed as an opportunity for people to “come together and show our support for Israel at this critical time.” It included an update on the conflict from representatives from the S.F.-based Israeli Consulate, a live report from a kibbutz and music performed by local cantors.
“On behalf of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay, we thank everyone who attended or sent their wishes for peace and security for Israel. We also thank the many East Bay rabbis and cantors who participated in this program,” organizers wrote in an email.
Berkeley congregation Chochmat HaLev hosted a July 14 gathering titled “Chanting, Praying and Meditating for Peace,” with about 60 people in attendance.
Expanding on the interfaith theme, Kehilla Community Synagogue of Piedmont invited congregants to attend a July 12 open house at the Islamic Cultural Center in Oakland to break that day’s fast of Ramadan. On July 15, Kehilla members took part in a national interfaith event, held locally at Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, to mark both Ramadan and the 17th of Tammuz, a Jewish fast day. The event also included a vigil calling “for an end to the violence in Israel/Palestine.”
In San Francisco on July 12, some graduates of the California Institute of Integral Studies decided to organize a meditation and dialogue, but getting the word out wasn’t easy and fewer than 10 people showed up. Yael Melamed, one of the organizers, was hoping Palestinians and Arabs would attend, but none did, she said.
In the South Bay, an event to show solidarity with the Israel Defense Forces was held July 15 at the Jerusalem Grill and Bar in Campbell. The restaurant stayed open later than usual to allow those who fasted for the 17th of Tammuz to eat. All profits that night went to the Friends of the IDF, restaurant staff said.
As of midweek, local activists were planning their next moves to show support for Israel. The ZOA’s Levine said he hopes to organize a large-scale pro-Israel rally of the sort held in Los Angeles last week, which drew thousands of people — although he thinks a similar rally would be harder to stage in the Bay Area.
“There’s a reason some of the bigger Jewish organizations don’t want to put on a public rally,” he said. “They’re scared of violence. But the way I look at it, if our brothers and sisters in Israel are under fire, the least we can do is show up on the street and wave a flag.”
Agencies spring into action to raise emergency funds
Shortly after Israel launched its military operation against Hamas on July 7, the Jewish world began mobilizing to provide a range of services.
The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Reform and Conservative movements, began an emergency fund called “Stop the Sirens.” To donate, visit www.jewishfederations.org or your local federation’s home page.
Jim Offel, interim director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, pointed out that the fund will provide “emergency aid and alleviate the pain and suffering of Israelis living in harm’s way. One hundred percent of the funds collected will be sent directly to our trusted partners on the ground.”
Claudia Felson, chair of the Israel and Overseas committee for the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, said the aim is to raise $10 million. The funds, which will be sent to Israel almost as quickly as they come in, will help transport and shelter vulnerable populations in Israel, including children, those with disabilities, and the elderly and housebound. In addition, some of the money will support professionals who counsel those who have been traumatized by rocket fire from Gaza.
The campaign is being implemented in collaboration with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Dror Israel, the Israel Trauma Coalition and other groups. The Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism are also partners.
In addition, JFNA called for a special mission to Israel’s south on July 14 and 15. Practically on the spur of the moment, federation leaders from throughout North America — though none from the Bay Area — flew to Israel and visited towns under assault such as Ashkelon and Sderot to show support.
A group of federation campaign chairs and campaign directors already on a trip to Israel, including a handful from the Bay Area, traveled to the south a day earlier to show support.
Here are some additional fundraising efforts underway:
Jewish National Fund: Several board members of the Bay Area chapter of the Jewish National Fund have held events in their homes to raise funds for immediate assistance, such as firefighting equipment and mobile bomb shelters. “[JNF] has had to evacuate kids with special needs to the North,” JNF board member Rose Barlow said. “We’ll be phoning our supporters in the next week to focus on these additional needs.”
JNF also is seeking to keep up people’s spirits by doing things such as keeping a recreation center in Sderot open 24 hours a day. For more information, call JNF’s local office at (415) 677-9600 or visit www.jnf.org.
Friends of the Israel Defense Forces: Informed by the IDF that many soldiers don’t have time for full meals or showers in light of the current situation, Friends of the IDF is seeking donations of $36 for toiletry kits and $18 for snack packages for soldiers, as well as other donations. For more information, call the FIDF Bay Area chapter at (415) 547-8360 or visit www.fidf.org.
Magen David Adom: Israel’s national emergency medical response and blood services organization “has been rushing toward danger to save lives,” according to American Friends of MDA. www.afmda.org.
Orthodox Union: The Israel Emergency Fund will help offer respite and psychological services to children in the conflict zones. Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley has jumped into action, hoping “to collect necessary funds to sponsor at least 50 youth (or an entire bus),” Rabbi Yonatan Cohen wrote on his Facebook page. www.ou.org.
B’nai B’rith International: An Israel Emergency Fund has been opened. www.bnaibrith.org.
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: The agency has started an emergency support center for the elderly and is allocating more funds for bomb shelters in southern Israel. Fellowship volunteers will deliver food, medication and emotional support to the elderly in endangered areas. www.ifcj.org.
In addition to fundraising solicitations, many Jewish organizations have issued action alerts.
The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council sent out an email titled “Take action: Show your support for Israel today” that included nine ways individuals can help. Among them were contacting local members of Congress; submitting a letter to the editor; and showing support on social media, such as Twitter, using hashtags #IsraelUnderFire and/or #OperationProtectiveEdge. www.tinyurl.com/jcrc-org-take-action.
Meanwhile, recent newsletters from many Northern California Chabad chapters linked to an entry titled “What can I do to help our brothers and sisters in Israel?” Suggestions included Torah study, saying a prayer for IDF soldiers, lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefillin and hanging a mezuzah. “Let us not underestimate the power of good,” the note said. — j. staff & jta