An Israel solidarity rally, organized by the grass-roots association Stand With Us, attracted several hundred local Jews and other supporters of Israel to the intersection of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards in Westwood. What made this rally particularly impressive was how large the turnout was on a weekday, especially since the rally was a product of e-mail and word of mouth. Also notable was the preponderance of young American Jews and Israeli ones, many in their 20s and 30s.
Another Israel solidarity rally will be held in front of the Federal Building, on the corner of Wilshire and Veteran boulevards, on Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m.
Stand With Us is a loose configuration of people that began last May when about 40 organizational leaders, lay leaders, rabbis and other members of Los Angeles’ Jewish community banded together to find ways of escalating support for Israel during the intifada. The credo on the affiliation’s Web site standwithus.com proclaims: "We are a grass-roots organization encompassing all branches of Judaism, Jewish organizations and friends of the Jewish people. We are not part of any religious or political organization, and we will not attempt to influence Israel’s government policies."
"It was very effective," Roz Rothstein, an activist involved in Stand With Us, told The Journal following the rally. "It goes to show that people do want to get together if given the opportunity. This is not about politics, this is about murder. We cannot have peace when people sitting around a restaurant are getting murdered."
Stand With Us organized the rally in concert with a wide range of supporters, including Temple Beth Am, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Council of Iranian-American Jewish Organizations, and Beth Jacob Congregation. Rothstein added that in addition to support from the Israeli and Persian communities, a group of devout Christians also took part.
Beth Jacob spiritual leader Rabbi Steve Weil and Marc Rohatiner, the synagogue’s president, were among those lined up along Wilshire Boulevard.
"For a midweek rally, there’s a lot of people," Rohatiner said. "It’s a pretty decent turnout."
Weil and Rohatiner were also impressed by the short time it took for the rally to be assembled in the midst of the Passover holidays. The word went out Friday.
Although this particular rally was not a Jewish Federation event, many Federation executives, staffers, and board members and their families came down to support the movement, including Federation President John Fishel; Federation Chair Jake Farber; Jewish Community Resource Center directors Michael Hirschfeld and Elaine Albert; South Bay Federation Director Margy Feldman; and Cheri Morgan, vice chair of the United Jewish Fund.
Also supporting the solidarity rally was Los Angeles’ Israeli Consul General Yuval Rotem. On April 1, he held a media conference in which he presented Israel’s position on the Middle East conflict to local media representatives. Rotem decried the recent escalation of Palestinian suicide bombings, and called for the condemnation of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a faux leader who has failed repeatedly to exercise leadership over extremists and to demonstrate a true interest in peace.
"In the meantime, we must exercise our right — the right of every country on earth — to defend its people," Rotem said.
At the Westwood rally, people waved Israeli and American flags, and carried signs with slogans such as "We Stand With Israel," "There Is No Excuse for Suicide-Murder," and "We Ji-Had Enough."
With the situation in Israel turning grislier, many of the young locals present were very concerned about what the future has in store for both Israel and America.
"My whole family is in Israel," said Sean Hashem, an Angeleno in his early 30s who attended Fairfax High School. "All my mother’s side of the family, my father’s side. It’s very frustrating. There’s a feeling of hopelessness, that nothing will be fixed soon, that it’ll escalate. I had to come here and show my support."
Hashem expressed his dismay in "the United States’ indecisiveness" and wants to see the American government "taking a more pro-active approach" in its support for Israel.
"I didn’t think there would be this many people," said Ilona Fass, in her 20s, who says she felt it was vital to demonstrate her support of Israel against the waging of terrorism. "I think that what is happening in Israel can happen here. It’s just a matter of time."
Limore Twena, a recent Angeleno raised in Toronto by Israeli parents, said that if Jews become cowed into not expressing their rage at the violent campaign being unleashed on innocent Israeli citizens, the terrorists have won.
"They want to make people scared to congregate," said Twena, in her mid-20s. "I’m here to show my support to Israel and stand up against terrorism."
Such sentiments and concerns spanned the generations of demonstrators. Blanka Lifshin, a Holocaust survivor in her 70s, has been on edge since the suicide bombings in Israel escalated in recent weeks.
"It’s heartbreaking," said Lifshin, who has family and friends living in Israel. "I call every night."
She added that she has been disappointed by the lack of high-profile Jews, such as those in the entertainment industry, making a vocal statement against what is happening in Israel.
"A lot of Jewish people have influence," she said, "and they don’t do anything."
Locals were not the only people participating in the rally. Out-of-towners visiting Los Angeles for the holidays, such as the Gruens of Boston, were also on hand to lend their support.
"We had other plans for fun in L.A.," Dan Gruen said, "but we thought that this was more important."
"Everybody’s really trying hard to get what we want, and we’ll probably get it,"said Dalia, Gruen’s 10-year-old daughter.
"What do we want?" Gruen asked his daughter.
Dalia, with a shy smile, replied, "We want peace."