Friday, January 9, 2009

A rally by any other name

Four area cantors sing "Am Yisoel Chai ("The People of Israel Live") at the JCC
Last night the Jewish community-at-large and segments of other communities (notably the Coushatta Nation and a representative of the Baptist community) assembled together at the uptown JCC in solidarity with Israel as it entered its second week of fighting against Hamas. The program was spirited with an opening outside by Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans executive director Michael Weil. Weil, a citizen of the United Kingdom with two daughters living in Israel told of how the rocket attacks launched by Hamas terrorists in Gaza now threatened them both. Small glowsticks were passed out to the crowd who lifted them high in solidarity with the Jewish state as large candles burned in a menorah at the front entrance of the JCC. Weil then invited three area cantors and one cantorial solist to sing two powerful renditions of "Am Yisroel Chai ("The People of Israel Live")" and "Od Yavo Shalom (Peace Will Come")" before leading everyone in the singing of "Hatikvah ("The Hope")," the Israeli national anthem. Afterwards everyone was invited inside to hear from several of the invited speakers. Touro Synagogue Rabbi Alexis Berk spoke first on behalf of the New Orleans Rabbinic Council. Then came an impassioned City Councilman-at-Large Arnie Fielkow, a probable entrant in the next mayor's race. Speaking as both a concerned public leader and a prominent Jew, Fielkow spoke more about Israel than I ever had heard him before. He alerted everyone that his speech was going to run over the alloted three minutes the program had offered him. No one minded a bit. He was very dynamic and downright statesmanlike. Community shalicha Savion Medaleion spoke of the ongoing psychological damage suffered by the constant barrage of missile, rocket and mortar attacks and the loss felt by the entire Israeli community when one 17-year-old female was killed in one such attack, acting as a shield to save her 12-year-old brother. Congregation Beth Israel's chazzan (cantor) Ofer Kurtsberg, a native of Sderot, spoke of his personal knowledge of family and friends who are in constant peril. First Baptist Church senior pastor David Crosby offered unwavering support from the Christian community in a short address to the mostly-Jewish crowd. Next up was the vice chairman of the Coushatta Tribe, David Sickey. Since last November, the Coushatta Tribe situated in Louisiana and Mississippi became the first Native American tribe to recognize the state of Israel. So, it was deemed most appropriate for a representative of another sovereign nation to lend its support for Israel at the public forum. The last invited speaker to appear was Asher Yarden, the Consul General for the State of Israel representing the Southwest United States, which includes -- by Israel's figuring -- the New Orleans metropolitan area. Yarden's speech spoke to the heart of the reasons that the Jewish state could no longer tolerate the status quo. He bemoaned the loss of life, but spoke to the moral imperative that Israel has placed at the fore in their struggle against Hamas. Echoing earlier statements that Rabbi Berk uttered, Yarden exclaimed that Israel has chosen life, not embraced death as their enemies. He pointed out the extreme measures Israel has taken in calling their targets and advising them to vacate their premises because an attack was forthcoming. Hamas leaders would gather their families around them, foolishly believing that Israel would stand down, he continued. But Israel will no longer back down to Hamas or any other terrorist group that feels they can threaten them with a possible backlash of unpopular world opinion. The greatest duty a government has in its charge is to protect its citizens, he continued. As long as a threat from Hamas continues, Israel will continue to wage war against them, Yarden vowed. The final words for the evening came once again from Federation executive director Weil, who expressed his thanks for all who had been in attendance in solidarity with Israel at the gathering. Once again,"Hatikvah" was sung and the crowd dispersed. It was a powerful night and, like the national anthem that resonated throughout the auditorium, everyone left with a feeling of hope for Israel. (A highlights video is available online by clicking here.)

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