Nyet! Israel Da!’ - America’s Russian Jewish Community
Finds Its Voice
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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