An air raid siren wailed through Congregation Anshei Israel. On the southern wall of the sanctuary, a video showed people scurrying for shelter and lying down in the middle of a plaza, covering their heads.
“In Israel, you only have 15 seconds to save your life,” an announcer intoned as the siren faded.
This video — a Viennese flashmob simulating an Israeli red alert missile warning — opened the evening and set the mood for “We Stand with Israel” on Aug. 7. More than 400 Tucsonans turned out to demonstrate support for Israel during Operation Protective Edge in a program led by area clergy and cosponsored by Anshei Israel and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
At about the same time, actual red alert sirens sounded in Israel, as Hamas violated a 72-hour cease-fire with two rocket strikes on Israel’s southern Eshkol region.
“We’re here today to stand with Israel because, although I am in the West, my heart is in the East,” said Rabbi Robert Eisen, quoting the poet Yehudah Halevi in his welcoming remarks. “We’re here today to stand with Israel because we are trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.”
Israel’s Consulate General in Los Angeles David Siegel gave a pre-taped briefing by video, thanking Tucson for the show of solidarity. “It’s been a very difficult summer,” he said, noting that “over 80 percent of Israel’s population was in the line of fire, something that no country, no democracy would ever allow. Here in the United States that would be unthinkable.”
Throughout the evening, Weintraub Israel Center Co-chair Jeff Artzi, JFSA Board Chair Kathy Unger and Christians United For Israel representative John Winchester took turns reading aloud statements of solidarity anonymously submitted by participants. According to Eisen, about 100 statements were submitted and will be sent to Temple Emanu-El’s sister congregation K’hilat Emet VeShalom in Nahariya, Anshei Israel’s sister congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, and Tucson’s Partnership2Gether communities in Kiryat Malachi and the Hof Ashkelon region.
“I stand with Israel because wherever in the world I may be living, my soul resides in Israel. It is the one place on Earth that connects me to my Jewish past, present and future of the Jewish people.”
“I stand with Israel because Israel is my shield against the growing evil in our world.”
“I stand with Israel because I am a Christian and I believe it is an integral part of my faith. I also support Israel since they are the only democracy in the Middle East.”
“I stand with Israel because it deserves to live in peace with its neighbors as the true democracy that it is.”
“I stand with Israel because it is our homeland, our history and our family.”
“I stand with Israel because we do not have an alternative. It’s the only land all Jews can call home.”
Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash and Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim led responsive readings. Anshei Israel’s cantorial soloist Nichole Chorny led the audience in singing a prayer for peace, “Oseh Shalom,” and Naomi Shemer’s “Al Kol Eileh.”
Tucson’s Partnership2Gether Co-Chair Ken Miller, who recently returned from two months in Israel and visited the partnership region under fire, introduced a video greeting from Tali Nitzan, who lives in Netiv HaAsara in the Hof Ashkelon region, which borders Gaza. Her family, like so many residents of southern Israel, left their home as the conflict escalated. “My children ask when we are going back home …. My house is 200 meters from the [border] wall …. A tunnel was found one kilometer from our house, in the greenhouse area of the moshav …. We just want our lives back.” Nitzan’s family participates in the Same Moon program that pairs families in Tucson and the Partnership2Gether communities.
As photos of the fallen Israeli soldiers were projected on the wall, participants stood to recite the Mourners Kaddish, led by Tucson Hebrew Academy’s Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz. In addition to the 64 soldiers and three Israeli civilians who were killed, 1,620 soldiers and 684 civilians had been wounded prior to the cease-fire.
Tucson’s Jewish community chaplain Rabbi Richard Safran recited a prayer for the Israel Defense Forces in English, followed in Hebrew by Rabbi Israel Becker of Congregation Chofetz Chaim. Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Samuel Cohon chanted a prayer for Israel in Hebrew and the participants joined in an English translation.
Oshrat Barel, Southern Arizona’s community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center, acknowledged and thanked two families with children who are lone soldiers, teens who left their families and moved to Israel on their own to serve in the IDF(see related article on page 1.)
Barel continued, “There is time for prayer and there is time for action. Tonight, it is time for both. We all heard this pure prayer for peace, for Israel and for the IDF soldiers, and I believe that all of us will agree that we are holding the same prayer for the innocent civilians in Gaza.”
In terms of action, Barel thanked those who have sent letters of support to Tucson’s partnership region and for the generous donations given to the Jewish Federations of North America “Stop the Sirens” campaign. These funds are being used to send children to respite camp, provide emergency services and help families. “All funds collected tonight,” she announced, “will be designated to a special project called ‘Back to Normal; Back to School.’ We are aiming to distribute at least a couple hundred school supplies to elementary school kids in our partnership region.”
The evening ended with Hatikvah, led by Chorny and an impromptu choir of children she called up to join her.
To contribute to the “Stop the Sirens” campaign or “Back to Normal; Back to School,” visit www.jewishtucson.org or mail your donation to the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, 3822 E. River Road, Tucson, AZ 85718.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ [email protected].