Jewish leaders strive for 100,000 at NY solidarity rally

Melissa Radler - Jerusalem Post - August 23, 2001

NEW YORK

- US Jewish leaders are mobilizing to bring together 100,000 Israel supporters to rally for the Jewish state in Manhattan next month.

Sponsored by the United Jewish Communities, the September 23 "Israel NOW Solidarity Rally" has the backing of dozens of Jewish groups spanning the political and religious spectrum. Invitations have been extended to US President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and local and national politicians and Jewish leaders are expected to address the crowd.

"Israel has never been as isolated or as threatened, and as a Jew, I must stand by Israel. As a Jew, I must never allow Israel to be alone," said Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel at a press briefing about the rally on Tuesday.

As the event's honorary chairman, Wiesel is calling on America's five million Jews to fly, bus and walk over to the rally, or to organize local rallies to be held simultaneously in other parts of the country. The rally's turnout, he said, is a "test for the American Jewish community" on whether it is willing to stand up en masse for Israel, and he said that a turnout of less than 50,000 would be a "mark of shame."

"If we're successful, I promise you a message will be delivered to our administration and to Jews in Israel," said the event chairman, Connecticut businessman and longtime lay leader Marvin Lender, during the briefing.

Groups of supporters from across the country are currently making plans to attend the event, including planeloads of people from Cleveland and Chicago, and a 15-car trainload of activists from Connecticut, said Lender.

On the East Coast, federations are encouraging Jewish schools to close so that children can attend the rally. Communities are being asked to pick alternative dates for cemetery visits, which traditionally take place on the Sunday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - the day of the rally.

"This rally is an opportunity to bring tens and tens of thousands of people together at one time to experience the excitement and to motivate the commitment we all have for the State of Israel," said Lender.

Since the intifada began last year, Israel supporters have massed together in New York City twice. In October, 15,000 people gathered outside the Israeli consulate to protest Palestinian violence, and in June, a group of six rabbis brought together 10,000 demonstrators after the UJC canceled a larger rally.

"I'm embarrassed to say it took too long for people to wake up and do something of this magnitude," noted Lender during the briefing.

Additional information about the rally can be found at www.ujc.org.