Solidarity inside, feuding outside at pro-Israel gathering at Emanu-El

Upwards of 1,000 people convened at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco on July 20 — most of them to attend what was billed as an “Emergency Solidarity Gathering” for Israel.

However, a couple of hundred people remained outside the synagogue during the event, waving banners and jawing with each other over the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Marchers are confronted by an anti-Israel protester outside Congregation Emanu-El. photo/abra cohen

Inside, a near-capacity crowd listened to a lineup of speakers that included rabbis, politicians and Andy David, Israel’s S.F.-based consul general. Between 800 and 900 people attended, according to Emanu-El officials.

Things got a bit dodgy during David’s speech, as an anti-Israel protester wouldn’t stop shouting and was removed from the sanctuary by security guards.

“Overall it was very upbeat,” said one of the attendees, who identified himself as Tom Bentzion of Corte Madera. “We need more things like this.”

Before the 4 p.m. gathering, a group of Israel supporters marched seven blocks from the JCC of San Francisco to Emanu-El. The procession consisted of more than 200 people, according to a San Francisco police officer. When they arrived, they were met by about 50 Jewish Voice for Peace supporters who had congregated on the sidewalk.

As the event began inside, about 150 pro-Israel supporters stayed outside, and the two groups shouted at each other, exchanging chants such as “end the occupation” and “Hamas uses human shields.” Things got heated, but the police made sure they didn’t boil over.

Carol Sanders of Berkeley was one of the people with JVP, an Oakland-based group critical of Israeli policies. “There are many Jews who feel that what Israel has done for many years is wrong,” she said. “It is against our values and we will protest it.”

The proliferation of anti-Israel protests is what motivated a group of young Bay Area Israelis to hold the march from the JCCSF to Emanu-El.

“We feel horrible with everything that is going on in Israel, and seeing the anti-Israel demonstrations has not helped morale,” said one of the march’s organizers, Hilla Wahnishe-Jacobs of Mountain View.

Originally from Haifa, she promoted the march on Facebook to a group of young adults from the Israeli Cultural Connection at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. After hearing about it, StandWithUs/S.F. Voice for Israel put the word out, as well.

The same day, there was a march up Market Street protesting Israel and the country’s military action in Gaza, drawing hundreds, according to media reports.

Several large community gatherings to support Israel have been held around the Bay Area.

Congregation Beth David in Saratoga hosted a nighttime event July 22 that drew more than 800 people, according to the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, which helped organize the gathering.

“It was a phenomenal event,” said Jyl Jurman, CEO of the federation. Speakers included rabbis, cantors and community members. “We fulfilled a need for the community.”

On July 16, Temple Sinai in Oakland was the site of a community gathering at which East Bay rabbis and cantors led prayers for peace and the security of Israel. More than 400 people attended, according to the Jewish Federation of the East Bay.

Sonoma County’s Jewish community was to hold a solidarity gathering on July 23 at Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa. According to an email, “The purpose of the meeting is to gather and show our support for the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces in their struggle to stop Hamas’s rocket attacks on the people of Israel.”

Abra Cohen