Solidarity gatherings encourage public support for Israel

With the sound of the local protests over the Gaza situation becoming ever louder and angrier, hundreds of people across the Bay have sought solace in synagogue gatherings to show solidarity with Israel.

“I think people felt relieved just being around other people talking about the situation and showing support,” said Karen Stiller, Peninsula director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, of a Jan. 8 solidarity gathering at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, attended by more than 500 people.

That same evening, about 150 people attended a similar gathering at Congrega-tion Sherith Israel in San Francisco, also sponsored by the JCRC. Other pro-Israel gatherings were to take place this week at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon and Temple Sinai in Oakland.

A Santa Rosa gathering has been set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20 at Congregation Shomrei Torah, 2600 Bennett Valley Road.

In San Francisco, protesters supporting Gaza stood on the street corner outside Sherith Israel, and could be heard from inside the sanctuary.

“It’s our time to speak out,” said Julie Fingersh of San Rafael. “There is such anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the Bay Area, and it’s our responsibility as Jews to educate ourselves, at least to the point where we can feel comfortable defending what Israel is doing.”

Fingersh had never before attended a pro-Israel gathering. But for Mollee Sue Zoken, also from San Rafael, the gathering was nothing new. When she was a child, she used to go with her mother to demonstrations in front of the Soviet consulate in San Francisco in support of refuseniks. Now a mother of two, she brought her children to the Sherith Israel event.

“It’s important that my kids are educated and part of the community’s activism,” Zoken said of her daughters, Arielle and Yael.

People at the San Francisco event wore stickers saying “I stand with Israel.” They sang Hatikvah together, and listened while Lee Ganor, a native Israeli, sang “Shir L’Shalom (A Song for Peace),” which Yitzhak Rabin sang just before he was assassinated.

Both the Peninsula and San Francisco gatherings focused on educating those in attendance about the situation on the ground in Israel, and encouraging them to get more involved in defending Israel’s right to defend its borders.

At the San Francisco event, Dan Bernal, chief of staff to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), read a statement from her office in support of Israel; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom also sent a statement in support of Israel, as did State Assembly Member Fiona Ma.

Akiva Tor, consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest region, also spoke at both gatherings, providing a brief history of the events leading up to the current situation in Gaza.

“We made a superhuman effort to leave Gaza” in 2005, Tor said. “We are there because we have no other choice … If we don’t stand up against Palestinian aggression, peace will never come.”

Several speakers, including Zach Bodner, regional director of AIPAC, and Rabbi Doug Kahn, director of the JCRC, who were at both events, encouraged those in attendance to capitalize on the energy of the solidarity gatherings and continue to be involved in supporting Israel.

“We need our collective voice to make it clear that Israel’s cause is just,” Kahn said in San Francisco. “We need to take the message on the road and dramatically turn up our activism.”

Kahn and Bodner suggested audience members contact their political representatives, talk about Israel with friends, family and colleagues, and get involved in local efforts that support Israel.

“This is not a war about occupation, it’s about Israel’s survival,” Bodner said. “Our family in Israel needs us.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.