(New York Jewish Week) — Liberal Zionists joined with right-wing activists and secular and Hasidic Jews grieved together with elected officials at a demonstration outside the United Nations on Tuesday that expressed solidarity with Israel and mourned its dead.
The gathering occurred as a bloodied Israel continued to battle terrorists and buried its fallen, four days after an invasion by Hamas killed more than 900 people, wounded thousands and took more than 100 captive. At least 14 U.S. citizens have died and 20 are among the hostages.
“This is the place that our voices must raise and cascade throughout the entire country. We will not be alright until every person responsible for this act is held accountable,” Eric Adams said in a fiery speech. “I’m here today to say, not only am I the chief executive of this city, but I’m your brother. Your fight is my fight.”
State leaders including Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul had harshly condemned the pro-Palestinian Times Square event.
There did not appear to be a significant counterprotest outside the gathering aside from a small group from Neturei Karta, a Jewish movement that opposes Zionism and shows up to counter pro-Israel rallies as a matter of practice.
The massive crowd on Tuesday — its size roughly estimated by organizers to be 12,000 — spilled out of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in east midtown. Many in the somber audience bore Israeli flags and homemade signs voicing support for Israel, in addition to signs printed by some of the Jewish organizations sponsoring the rally. Placards in the audience read, “Never again is now,” “Hamas=ISIS,” and “Free our brothers,” and displayed photos of the attack’s victims.
In addition to Adams, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James gave passionate speeches in support of Israel and the New York Jewish community. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, and the acting consul general to New York, Tsach Saar, welcomed US support and voiced defiance against terror in their addresses to the crowd. In addition to the state leadership, a number of city council members were in attendance.
“I stand here to tell you that New Yorkers will never tolerate evil, whether it’s committed here in our homeland or in Israel,” Hochul told the crowd. “In such moments of darkness and in cruelty, yes we are called upon to pray for peace, but justice first. There must be justice for the slaughter.”
Participants came on their own and in large groups. Buses that shuttled in students from area religious schools lined Second Avenue, while progressive Israeli activists handed out Israeli flags, and members of right-wing groups held signs demanding a harsh response against Hamas. Some of the flags bore the slogan “Free in our land,” the insignia of the Israeli protest movement — underscoring how a movement focused on opposing the government has transformed into an impromptu aid and support network in the wake of the invasion.
Chabad Hasidic emissaries also dotted the crowd, urging men to put on tefillin.
Some in the crowd cried as two parents from Long Island told the story of their son in Israel, who went missing in the attack, and as a group of cantors performed a song saluting Israel Defense Forces troops.The event ended with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
“Omer, look at all the love and support. We love you and we’re just looking forward to bringing you home,” the father said in a message to his son.
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The event’s estimated size made it by far the largest show of support for Israel outside the country since the start of the war. Some arrivals struggled to get inside the cordoned-off area due to the crowding and tight police security.
“It’s definitely really important and it’s good to be living in a city like New York where there’s such a large population of other Jewish people,” said Evan Purcell, a Jewish man from the neighborhood. “It builds more of a community and to be supported by politicians and leaders only strengthens us and makes us feel heard.”
The event, billed as “New York Stands With Israel,” was led by the UJA-Federation of New York and the city’s Jewish Community Relations Council. It was sponsored by nearly a dozen other Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Israeli American Council, Union for Reform Judaism, and Orthodox Union.
“All the Jewish organizations including the ADL came together to be united because that’s what we need in this moment, to be united,” Scott Richman, the regional director of the ADL, told the New York Jewish Week.
Riki Cohen, an Israeli woman living in New York, came to the rally with her son. She said she would be traveling soon to Israel, where her daughter lives, to be with her. Cohen’s husband, an officer, was also called up to military service in Israel. Almost all of her friends were at the rally, she said.
“It really moves me to see all these people who support Israel, who during normal times don’t think about it so much but when there’s sorrow, everyone’s together and everyone supports,” she said. “It definitely helps. It gives a feeling of strength and security.”