Wednesday, August 02, 2006

1,000 People Rally for Israel in Kew Gardens Hills

Last night there was a rally for Israel about 3 minutes from our apartment, which made for a nice easy walk. The rally was in front of the public library and was put together by the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC) and a local politician, NYC Councilman Jim Gennaro. Gennaro has been a very strong supporter of the Jewish community and Israel, and he actually served as MC for the rally last night, introducing all the speakers and speaking very well himself. Though the rally dragged a bit as more and more people who were not originally supposed to be there showed up to give a short speech, it still went over very well with the crowd that had about 1,000 people at its peak. It was a nice, packed turnout, especially for such a hot muggy evening. [Pics and more after the jump.]
There were probably about two dozen speakers, as local political leaders and their representatives along with community leaders took their turns speaking. I arrived a bit late and could not figure out who was speaking, but whomever it was spoke very well - noting that we support the Lebanese people, and we hope that they will be able to strengthen their country and that we'd love for them to join Israel in defeating the ideology of Hezbollah. He also rallied the crowd more than almost any other speaker, yelling "Am Yisroel Chai! Am Yisroel Chai!" before finishing, and called on people to try and visit Israel if they could and support one of its most important industries, tourism.

The speakers were hard to keep track of, with most of them spending about 5 minutes at the podium; there was one small disturbance when an Arab man started yelling during one speech. The police quickly calmed the situation, and the man had a nice civil discussion with a couple of Israel supporters before giving his side to the one person there who seemed to be a reporter. After the rally, Gennaro sat down with the reporter for a while, repeating over every message he'd given during his speech - his dedication to making sure the reporter got all of it, and all of it right, was impressive and wise.

To be honest, I didn't listen to most of the speeches; I was shmoozing for a bit with Mark Frenkel, and I had to spend a few minutes talking to a few people (including the police chief or commissioner) about the swastikas and other messages that keep appearing in our building. [This past week it was "Muslims hate Jews", in a building with 7 Jewish apartments and one Muslim apartment out of 12.] The police actually came out a few weeks ago, and nothing happened for a couple of weeks, but now it seems to be starting again.
The best speaker I do recall hearing was Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, who is still going strong after many decades as a rabbi in the community. He talked about the importance of combating world opinion, the 'stand alone' mentality we must have with the United States and Tony Blair being our only allies in the world, and the need to get our message out. He strongly pushed people to contact Senators Clinton & Schumer about confirming John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations - noting that while Schumer (a "good Jew") has always supported Israel and the Jewish community well, he spoke recently of being undecided on Bolton, and that this must be remedied. There were two or three people who I noticed weren't thrilled with this, though they were agreeing with/clapping to his other statements about the UN. Almost everybody else, however, was cheering and clapping R' Schonfeld's remarks.

I believe it was he who noted the veterans standing up front, noting that we should thank every soldier we see for protecting our freedoms - the same freedoms we hope Israel will one day be able to enjoy the way we can in the United States, without fear. Another speaker noted that he was representing a local politician who couldn't make it - because he had just flown to Israel to help out over there. Mayor Bloomberg sent a (very young-looking) representative, who spoke very well and forcefully, especially considering he looked to be about 25 years old; the overall message from the speakers was to help pressure our government to continue to allow Israel to go after the terrorists and not pressure for a ceasefire that would be disastrous for just about everyone in the region.

I spoke very briefly with the head of the QJCC after the rally, and she was quite pleased with the turnout and how it went. As my grandfather (a former member of the QJCC) noted, it was very good, with great turnout, but ran a little long as speaker after speaker showed up to say their piece, even if they spoke well. Otherwise, it was a nice way to rally the community and drum up a little more political support for Israel.
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I'll try to post more pictures later... I'm still having a bit of trouble with them.

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