Thousands Rally in L.A. to Support Israel

“I’m here to show this country, my family and friends in Israel that we Jews will be there forever,” said 14-year-old Elad Menna, a Los Angeles resident who emigrated with his family from the West Bank five years ago. “Although I live here, my heart is in Israel.”

The boy spoke to a reporter on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, surrounded by thousands of like-minded Jews and non-Jews who had come together in front of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles headquarters in one of the largest pro-Israel rallies in years to express their support for the Jewish state.

The song “Am Yisrael Chai” rang out, along with speeches by political and spiritual leaders, as hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags were flanked by banners proclaiming “Israel Left Gaza for Peace, Not for 800 Rockets,” and “We Want Peace, They Want Jihad,” and “United Against Terror.”

Draped in a blue-and-white scarf decorated with Stars of David, Allyson Rowen Taylor carried a banner that showed a smiling United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan shaking hands with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The text: “The Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559!” a reference to, among other things, a resolution that mandates the disarmament and disbanding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that prevent the Lebanese government from exercising its full sovereignty. In addition to her sign, the associate director of the American Jewish Congress (AJC) of Los Angeles carried a special picture in her purse: a photo of her 20-year-old son Zachary, who is American-born and currently serving as a sniper in the Israel Defense Forces.

“Because I’ve taught him to be a good Zionist,” said Rowen Taylor, fighting back tears, “I have to be here and be a good Zionist for him.”

Rowen Taylor said she has no idea where the Israeli government has deployed her son.

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President John Fishel declared their support for Israel, the crowd came together for two hours to make a statement to each other, the media and the entire world: They believe in Israel, its right to defend itself and its quest for peace. Even Jews who have long been critical of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip came out to participate.

The gathering, which Federation officials estimate to have reached as many as 10,000 but police pegged at 6,500, stretched along Wilshire Boulevard from San Vicente Boulevard to La Jolla Avenue. To keep cool, many on hand wore baseball caps, shorts and carried bottles of water.

Schwarzenegger told the gathering that he has long, deep affection for Israel. He said that he has visited the country several times, including in the 1970s as a body building champion; the 1980s as “The Terminator;” and in the 1990s to open a Planet Hollywood restaurant. He added that his first trip abroad after being elected governor was to Israel.

“Let me tell you,” he said. “With all the trips I’ve taken to Israel, with all the business I’ve done with the Israeli people, and of course, I have several Israeli people working at my house, I can tell you there is nothing more the Israeli people want than to live in peace.”

Villaraigosa told the cheering crowd that Israelis will welcome their message.
“To the families in Haifa and Nahariyya, to all those in both the north and the south who’ve been terrorized in recent weeks by the relentless rocket attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah, this gathering 7,500 miles across the globe is no distant gesture,” Villaraigosa said.

Fishel, who heads the Federation, which organized the rally, proclaimed that the assembled stand with Israel at a “dangerous and defining moment.” He went on to question whether any actions taken by Israel can satisfy Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists.

Simon Wiesenthal Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier defiantly told Israel’s Los Angeles supporters that Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists will never realize their dream of destroying Israel, especially if the Jews and their supporters remain united in the face of such implacable hatred.

“Their objective is a Middle East free of Jews,” Hier said. “We can assure them today that is something they will never live to see.”

While there was unanimity of spirit, there was diversity in the crowd. A group of about 25 heavily tattooed Set Free Soldiers caused more than a few double-takes. Clad in black pants and black leather jackets and vests, the burly members of the Evangelical Christian network proclaimed love for Israel.

The club’s leader, a Harley rider calling himself Chief Phil Aguilar, said he has visited Israel 15 times since the early 1980s. Surrounded by his three biker sons and a daughter, Aguilar said he found the Jewish state inspirational. When visiting the Western Wall, though, he said and his fellow bikers sometimes get less than an enthusiastic reception.

“When the rabbis first see us, they look at us a little funny,” Aguilar said. “But they’re in black and white, too, and also look a little funny. In the end, we end up being good friends.”

Metal barricades and a large police presence separated the main rally from a small counter-demonstration of about 200. As police helicopters buzzed overhead, the pro-Israeli rally-goers and the pro-Palestinian protestors hurled insults at one another. Cries of “Terrorists!” “Terrorists!” were greeted with chants of “Free, Free Palestine, Long Live Hezbollah!”

With several Palestinian flags fluttering nearby, architect Eman Bermani said she made the trek from Irvine to voice her disapproval for Israel’s campaign in Lebanon.

“The violence is not going to benefit anyone,” she said. “There’s just going to be more killing and more loss of life. I’m full of frustration.”

An Orange County engineer who would only identify himself as Avraham took a harder-edged position, saying Israel would cease to exist if she didn’t learn how to live in peace with her Muslim neighbors instead of “subjugating them, colonizing them.”

On the other side of the barricade, pro-Israel demonstrator Eileen Jayson said she this was the first pro-Israel rally she had attended, and she came because of the gravity of the situation overseas. The 53-year-old Tarzana paralegal added that she hopes to take her maiden voyage to Israel in November to get married.

“It’s about time I went,” she said. “We haven’t given up yet,”
So did the gathering accomplish anything? Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss thinks it made a difference.

“This rally had everything going against it,” said Weiss, one of the guest speakers. “It was unbearably hot. It came on late notice and during summer vacation.

“And we still filled Wilshire Boulevard with thousands of people. All elements of the community really stood up and were counted.”

The Circuit

Shining Lights

The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division put a cool spin on Chanukah with “Latkes and Blackjack” at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. The usually dark alternative music club had a cheery holiday makeover as dreidels and chocolate gelt were spread across tables in the main room, as well as in the neighboring Alterknit lounge.

The continuous shouts of “yes” from 20- and 30-somethings at the seven blackjack tables — who were wearing everything from jeans and sneakers to suits and “little black dresses” — added to the spirit of the event.

Young Leadership member Jeff Kay said events like “Latkes and Blackjack” are more likely to draw him than other types of events: “The more social, the better.”

That’s exactly what the division’s staff had in mind.

“We find that it is really important for us to have festive occasions for people to participate in,” said Sandy Levin, Young Leadership Division director, who added that recent reports about the disconnect of young people from the Jewish community are “troubling.”

“I think at this age there are so many people not affiliated to anything,” she said. “We’re trying to make an impact and help people connect in our own small way.”

Since Young Leadership is about giving back to the community, each candle on the enormous menorah, brought in for the event, represented a different group assisted by The Federation.

“We want them to enjoy Chanukah, but we also want them to understand more about what the Federation does,” said Heather Greenberg and Yael Irom, Young Leadership Division co-chairs.

Causes honored by the candles included Jewish Family Service (JFS), SOVA Food Pantry and the Bureau of Jewish Education. “Anybody at any stage of their life might need a service of The Jewish Federation,” Levin told the Circuit. “And if they don’t need it today, they may need it down the road.”

When all the blackjack chips were cashed and all the latkes were eaten, Young Leadership had raised more $81,000, to provide assistance to the elderly, children and others in need in Los Angeles, Israel and around the world. They also collected more than 50 toys for JFS Gramercy Place Shelter. — Shoshana Lewin, Contributing Writer

Fulfilling Dreams

It was truly the “children’s hour” when The Fulfillment Fund held its Annual Holiday Party for young children with disabilities. The well-attended event entertained several-hundred students, ages 3-9, from the Los Angeles Unified School District for a memorable day of festive fun.

The event is hosted by Fulfillment Fund students and their mentors, and college scholars from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Lucky Brand Foundation provides a generous grant each year to help make this incredible event possible.

More than 30 years ago, the Fulfillment Fund began with a similar holiday party, and has since grown into one of the most effective college access organizations in Los Angeles, having served thousands of young people throughout the years.

FESTIVAL of Advocacy

Lighting up the night, more than 450 people filled the University of Judaism’s Gindi Auditorium for its “Festival of Lights” concert/fundraiser for the Israel advocacy and education group StandWithUs on Dec. 11.

“Giving is easy when it doesn’t cost us anything,” said Century City attorney and StandWithUs board vice president Marty Jannol, a festival honoree along with his wife and fellow board member Susan Jannol.

“Few of us here tonight have any fundamental material needs,” he said. “May our giving be doubly blessed by causing us to make the right choices about our material lives.”

Honors for Estrin

Israel’s high-tech industry, a mainstay of the country’s economic, military and scientific strength, honored its engineering “father” recently, when it bestowed the Israel Software Industry Pioneer Award on UCLA proffessor Gerald (Jerry) Estrin.

Estrin and his wife, Thelma, also a computer engineer, left Princeton in 1954. With a small team at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Estrin hand-built the WEIZAC, the first computer in the Middle East.

Additional honors were conferred on Estrin, a Santa Monica resident, by the Weizmann Institute and the worldwide Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers for his and Israel’s roles in the global information revolution.

An extensive story on Estrin’s work was published in the Jewish Journal on Dec. 3, 2004, and can be found on the Journal Web site. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor