In The Media
`Terrorism Nyet! Israel Da!’ - America’s Russian Jewish Community Finds Its Voice

- The Jewish Press

5/1/2002
By Tzivia Emmer

Despite last Sunday’s drenching rain more than 15,000 Russian Jewish immigrants gathered in Seaside park in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to show support for Israel in its war against terrorism.

Carrying signs in Russian and English, demonstrators huddled under umbrellas as they chanted, “Terrorism nyet! Israel da!”

The gathering was widely seen as an indication that the Russian Jewish community, many of whose members have been in this country 20 years or more, is awakening to the notion of political activism, American style. It was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and other community groups.

“It is the first time the people are getting involved for Israel on such a large scale. The concern was always there but to go out and protest — this is the first time,” said Rabbi Hershel Okunov, director of Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.). “Political leaders are beginning to take notice and recognize the community,” he added.

The rally follows an earlier one in Brighton Beach on April 14 which drew several thousand people. The neighborhood is home to the largest community of immigrants to the U.S. from the Former Soviet Union.

New York Gov. George Pataki addressed Sunday’s crowd with strong words condemning Arab terror. “I am appalled that there hasn’t been an outcry of world opinion denouncing the PLO, because it’s clear that yasir Arafat and the PLO have supported, helped, aided and abetted terrorists in their actions to kill innocent civilians in Israel,” he said. “The world must speak out against this.”

Political messages and prayers intermingled as public officials, as well as community and rabbinic leaders spoke from a tent-covered stage draped with Israeli and American flags. Participants included Rabbi David Hollander, Borough President Marty Markowitz, New York State Senators Seymour Lachman and Carl Kruger, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, City Councilman Michael Nelson, and red-bereted radio personality Curtis Sliwa.

“Everyone stayed to the end even with the rain,” observed Fema Berger, a Brooklyn resident for the past 10 years. The rally was a new experience for him. “I feel very good about it,” he said.

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