By Deb Silverthorn
From the youngest members of the community in strollers to a great number of seniors, more than 1,000 people sat, stood and cheered with signs, Israeli flags and an unbridled spirit on Sunday afternoon, June 13. The sanctuary of Congregation Anshai Torah was host to a Community Gathering in Solidarity for the State of Israel, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas, in cooperation with JCRC member organizations.
“Throughout the year, the JCRC works hard to bring together those from different faiths and backgrounds, creating programming and projects of common concern,” said Marlene Gorin, executive director of the JCRC, who, with the help of many, including JCRC Israel Commission Chair Susie Avnery and Federation Program Associates Meghan Traxler, Marc Jacobson and Jeana Plas, coordinated the program. “It is only through truly getting to know each other that we can call on our interfaith community to stand with us in times like this. We must let those in Israel know — our friends and family, and we are all family — that we support them from afar and that we are here for them.”
Program participants included Stephanie Hirsh, JCRC chair; Alice Murray, president and CEO, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance; Jeff Rasansky, chairman-elect, JFGD; Ana Cristina Reymundo, editor, Nexos Spanish in-flight magazine/American Airlines and member of the AJC Latino Alliance on Immigration; Dr. Zev Shulkin, former member of the JCRC’s Israel Commission; Rabbi Stefan Weinberg. Congregation Anshai Torah; Rabbi Howard Wolk, community chaplain, Jewish Family Service, who led the Prayer for Israel; and Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker, Congregation Shearith Israel, who led the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hatikvah,” “Shir LaShalom,” “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and a spirited audience singing “Am Yisrael Chai” at the end of the program.
“As its name suggests, the JCRC is the community relations arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, and it takes seriously its responsibility to coordinate, facilitate and build consensus for action on issues of communal concern as they relate to social action, public policy, Israel and other appropriate topics of local, national and international policy,” said Stephanie Hirsch, who sent regrets on behalf of Israel Consul General Asher Yamir, who was unable to attend. “While there may be times that we disagree on isolated issues with our brothers and sisters, we do not waver on our support for the security and survival of the state of Israel. Each time we are called to offer our support for Israel, we do so with pride and honor.”
“We are extremely fortunate that our work allows us to convene our community in times of crisis, celebration and commemoration and allows us to build, maintain and join coalitions to promote effective action and opportunities for community involvement,” Jeff Rasansky said. “Do not lose sight of why we are here; it is not to debate politics, not to discuss right and wrong, not to solve the Middle East crisis — but to stand united and strong for our homeland.
“As Jews, regardless of our beliefs or how we choose to connect to Israel, it takes an extremely narrow view back into our history, or even in just the last few weeks, to know and recognize that we are always at risk, whether it’s risk of hatred or risk of annihilation,” Rasansky said. “The presence of Israel provides a source of pride, comfort and security to every single Jew in the world. We know that if Israel does not exist, if others are successful in tearing or beating us down, continuing to spread false lies and untrue rumors, sooner or later, our lives will be different, less comfortable, less safe, and less secure.”
“Three hundred or so were gathered to voice their support for the Hamas-led Gaza government; the signs they held were striking and chilling,” said Dr. Zev Shulkin, who spoke of witnessing pro-Palestinian activists protesting at Dealey Plaza last week. “Zionism equals terrorism, Zionism equals racism. Another had the word Zionism on one side and a swastika on the other,” he said. “These were all on display in downtown Dallas as cars drove by honking, businesspeople and civic leaders walked by on their way home from work.
“One can dismiss their viewpoints as extreme or choose to ignore them, a fatal mistake. The answer is we stand across the street and celebrate Israel,” Dr. Shulkin added. “We celebrate the ability of our oppressed people to defend themselves, something we have been unable to do until very recently. We celebrate the greening of lands that have been deserted for millennia. We celebrate Nobel Prize winners, medical, agricultural and technological innovations. We celebrate a thriving economy that seeks better ways to utilize solar energy to achieve petroleum independence. We celebrate women’s rights and democracy, and while the protesters stand across the street and hurl insults and spew hate, we stand proud of what our little country, our little strip of land, has created.”
“I was born in Mexico; I am an immigrant and the daughter of parents who worked as a dishwasher and a housekeeper. My mother used to call herself a ‘toilet scrubber,’ but if you knew her you would call her wise, imaginative and kind. My father, whose fingers I saw bleed from the hot water and the winter cold, was strong, honest and he held our family together; he was our patriarch,” Ana Cristina Reymundo said. “The sun shines on all, on good and on evil, on the poor and the rich. The sun doesn’t hide its light. And neither should we.
“What do Jews and non-Jewish Latinos have in common? Family is central to our identity. We say familia, you say mishpachah,” Reymundo said. “I find the term family value an odd one because for you and me, family is the core of our identity and transcends the individual to a community and to a people.
“We too have experienced a diaspora,” continued Reymundo, who also sits on the board of trustees of the American Immigration Council and the board of advisers of the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. “Like you, we have a connection to a land other than the U.S. and we understand the tug of a homeland on our heart. We immigrate in search of a better life for ourselves and our children; we do not forsake our traditions or customs and, like you, we pray for the peace and prosperity of our homeland. And like you, we have enriched culturally and economically the lands that have become our new homes, and we have often faced aggression, bigotry, violence and sometimes exploitation. We are a natural ally; reach out to us.”
Questioning whether or not there is there a parallel between the recent flotilla incident and the Arizona anti-immigrant law, Reymundo suggested, “Perhaps, as both incidents have galvanized folks on both sides of the issue.
“This law is touted as a border security response but the anti-immigrant and specifically the anti-Mexican rhetoric from supporters of the measure demonstrate how easily bigotry can be disguised in a cloak of legitimacy,” she said. “There are those who would pass human rights resolutions against Israel, all the while committing the most egregious violations themselves. It behooves us to keep in mind that discrimination can be institutionalized and this great nation of ours has a history of race-based discrimination. Let us also understand that a right not defended is not a right at all, for it cannot defend us.
“We either defend our rights or we waive them. And we must teach our children that it is the duty of each successive generation to defend those rights,” Reymundo said. “We CANNOT allow any law to sanction discrimination against any group. State-sanctioned discrimination gradually desensitizes the citizens. Given enough time, it will lead to extermination. We stand with you as brothers, sisters, allies. Where one is not free, no one is free. We are here; reach out to us.”
“We are dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and to teaching the moral and ethical response to prejudice, hatred and indifference, for the benefit of all humanity,” Alice Murray said. “We teach of being Upstanders and that means standing up — as we are today for Israel. Each year we welcome more than 50,000 guests, more than 90 percent of whom are not Jewish; students from public and private schools, tourists and others who come to learn. They all care.”
“Hatred isn’t a Jewish subject,” Murray, an Irish Catholic who has devoted herself to the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance’s mission, said through tears. “When any one person is threatened, the whole of humanity is threatened.”
Rabbi Weinberg, speaking on behalf of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas and as host rabbi, noted that Sunday was Rosh Chodesh and that we should be out celebrating. “‘Zeh hayom asah Adonai, nagilah v’nismikha bo — this is the day that G-d made, let us rejoice and be happy on it.’ But it is not our prerogative; Israel needs us. We need each other. And, we must be resolute in our stance.
“The past few weeks have weighed heavily on our souls. Israel has been under verbal attack. The nations of the world have been lining up against her,” Rabbi Weinberg said. ”The American Jewish community has not been left off the radar. The streams of video seem to defy all logic and reason and facts don’t matter. Pictures don’t even matter. Anything to support one’s view of the world, skewed or not, is all that seems to raise everyone’s blood pressure. We are entangled in a PR war and we are losing that war. Everything Israel does, can be and is used against her. Everything we can do, can be used against us.
“We cannot win this war alone,” Rabbi Weinberg added. “We need our president and his cabinet. We need our congressmen. We need our fellow clergy. We need our friends in different ethnic demographics, and we need students to engage students. We need Jewish soccer moms to educate other moms and we need Jewish men on the golf course to tell our narrative. We need to support the JCRC and our Federation, we need to support AIPAC and AJC and every organization that is politically involved. We need to educate ourselves and tell our story with pride. We need to take back the initiative and lead with resolve. We are the inheritors of an extraordinary legacy. In spite of a history far too often punctuated with powerlessness and wandering, we have always kept our focus on the spiritual dimension of life. It has been our people’s greatest gift to the world.”
“I am so proud of our community, of Jews and non-Jews who came together in an afternoon of magnificent support,” said Gary Weinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. “We don’t support terrorism, we won’t support terrorism and today was about getting that message out, loud and clear.”
Dallasites in strong numbers have always made pilgrimages to Israel and, in just the last months, there have been Federation-sponsored missions, congregational tours and individual family simcha visits. Students of middle school, high school and college have traveled on Birthright-sponsored tours, the March of the Living and Levine Academy’s senior class tour, and more than half of Yavneh Academy’s graduating seniors will spend a year studying, working and traveling throughout the country. “Next to getting on a plane and landing in eretz Yisrael, coming together here in our own community is tops,” Weinstein said.
“I think the local support is important because it shows a true microcosm of support where you know who the people are and it puts a face on them,” said former Dallas resident Roma Yee in an online interview from Israel, as she finishes three years of service as a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Having made aliyah, Yee will begin studies at Hebrew University in the fall. “The idea that if I come and visit and hear ‘We are behind what you are doing and proud of you,’ gives me an incentive to continue what I am doing, whether it’s serving in the IDF or just living my day-to-day life here.”
In closing, referring to next week’s Torah portion of Balak, Rabbi Weinberg spoke the words of the prophet Micah: “‘Umah doresh mimka, ki im asot mishpat v’ahavat chesed, v’hatznea lekhet im Elohecha — What does the Lord require of you? Only to do justice, to love goodness and to walk modestly with your G-d.’ May we always express this voice of justice with clarity, passion and dignity.”
For information about how to become involved with the Jewish Community Relations Council, call 214-615-5254 or visit the Web site at jcrcdallas.org. For information on the community’s other organizations, call the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas at 214-369-3313.