Solidarity Rally for Israel brings community together
By Dave Gil de Rubio
Unity was the operative concept readily apparent at the Solidarity Rally for Israel that was held at Great Neck’s Firefighters Park on Sunday, Oct. 25. Roughly 700 people representing a broad swath of Jewish movements and temples that numbered nearly 30 religious organizations came together at this family-friendly event to protest the recent violence and terrorism currently occurring in Israel. As young and old, Jew and gentile, stood and sat side by side,
waving both American and Israeli flags, a steady stream of speakers comprised of rabbis, local politicians—and even the Political Advisor to the Consul General of Israel—addressed the crowd from the stage of the park’s gazebo to urge continued support of Israel. The array of politicians who spoke included former Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Town Clerk Wayne Wink, Councilwoman Anna Kaplan, Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Legislator Ellen Birnbaum. Congressman Steve Israel, who was unable to attend due to a prior commitment, also sent a representative to speak on his behalf. The strong support and diversity of attendees were more than event organizer Rabbi Yamin Levy of Beth Hadassah Synagogue of Great Neck, the Iranian Jewish Center, could hope for.
“I’m really gratified. Every denomination of the community came out. There were non-Jews that came out in support and that’s significant. There was a sense of unity, which was beautiful. The rally was joyful, peaceful and festive, which made it really meaningful,” Levy said. “This was the first time we were doing this in Great Neck. There was no way to know how our community was going to respond. It’s one thing to sign their names to a flier and another to get out on a Sunday afternoon and get to the park. There’s no parking around there, you have to walk out there and bring the kids. And they did. That just says a lot to me. There weren’t only many denominations and demographics but also many cultures—the Iranian, Western American and Israeli cultures that live in our town—who knows how these various cultures respond to this. But they all came out. And they were waving their flags—Israeli and American—and they were proud to be there.”
Dr. Paul Brody, the rally’s emcee, was also impressed at the turnout and with how well the event ran. Having spent the past decade with his wife, Drora, cochairing the Israel Day Concerts in Central Park and being deeply involved with the activist Jewish Rapid Response Coalition, Brody offered his experience organizing rallies and concerts to Levy, who readily accepted. Brody kept the event running and reached out to Dr. Meyer Abbitan, Noam Segal and Rabbi Josh “Mr. Shabbos” Levy to help provide live music for the event.
“To bring the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform and non-
affiliated Jews and non-Jews is a feat in itself. So I think that’s a great accomplishment on really short notice on a day when people like to be with their families,” Brody said. “I think that was good because it heartened everyone who is very worried about what was going on in Israel and I think any human being around the world who has a heart and an ounce of feeling for humanity would be disgusted by the terrorism being promulgated in Israel. Very often we hear the excuse that people can’t make a rally because it’s in Manhattan. So here we put it in their backyards and lo and behold, Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender was great and she let us use all this electricity today and it became an electric rally.”
Much of the impetus for this rally Levy credits to Rebecca Sassouni, vice president of Temple Israel of Great Neck and vice president of SHAI (Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc.), whose work on a project called the 2014 Great Neck Shabbat Project helped lay down the foundation for the various rabbis and congregation presidents who pulled together to support this rally.
“I’m a big fan of Rebecca. She pulled the entire community together last October with the Great Neck Shabbat Project 2014,” Levy explained. “It was heroic…that’s what I would call it. I was able to capitalize on that. The email systems were all in place and the various leadership systems were in place, so it made what I achieved much easier. She showed us that unity is the supreme value and strength of this community.”
While Sassouni modestly directed the credit for the rally to Levy’s efforts, she did admit the crucial role she played in last year’s Shabbat Project helped make this event happen.
“Last year we had something called the Great Shabbat Project for the first time and what came out of it was a Google group of synagogue rabbis and a Google group of synagogue presidents, which is now used for things like this—to bring people together on short notice,” Sassouni explained. “From a local standpoint, what’s very important and singular about [this event] is that the organizations that are involved are very broad based. So you have Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. Sephardic and Ashkenazi and all across different denominations. There are different Persian groups, not just one. It’s very broad based. So the idea that there’s still room for common ground and unity is very inspiring.”