At times, the lines to get through security stretched well into the parking lot. But the wait was worth it for the feeling inside the packed sanctuary where members of the Detroit community — young and old — came together over their love of Israel.
Rabbi Aaron Starr quieted the large crowd to begin the evening. His resounding message, heard again and again in variations throughout the event: “We are one community, one voice — and we stand with Israel.” He also reached out to the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces repeatedly by saying, “Thank you, brothers and sisters, for protecting us.”
Israeli Consul General to the Midwest Roey Gilad told the crowd that Israel “did not want another cycle of violence, but that is was quite clear that the violence serves Hamas’ interests … they left very little choice for Israel.”
He said Israel has a tactical goal of destroying Hamas’ vast tunnel system and as many rockets and missiles as possible, and that the country has an exit strategy that involves not staying in Gaza long.
“Eventually, there will be another cycle of violence; it’s a matter of time,” he told the crowd. “We believe enough is enough. It’s time to demilitarize the Gaza Strip. It’s not going to be easy; it’s going to take time, but we believe Gaza should be a different model – one where they live their lives without threatening Israel.”
He ended by saying, “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for supporting Israel and for standing with us against terror.”
Scott Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, gave a passionate speech in which he said he was both angry at the double standard concerning Israel and its actions to defend the country, and proud of Detroit’s Jewish community for being supportive emotionally and financially. He urged those in the audience to support Federation’s Israel emergency campaign.
Kaufman Family Teen Mission several weeks early because of the war in Israel. Leora Bernard, 15, of Birmingham and Ben Reinheimer, 17, of West Bloomfield spoke of the love that grew within the group for Israel during the short two weeks they were there; about the love and concern they have for the 15 Israeli teens who joined them on the trip, but who had to stay home amid war while they returned to safety; and about how they want to become advocates for Israel in any way they can.
During Reinheimer’s speech, he stopped and apologized for deviating from what he had written. He had spotted a sign in the crowd that read “Hamas = Terror.” “That’s not what we should focus on,” he said. “The sign should say ‘Israel = Love.’” The crowd rewarded his compassionate observation with applause and an ovation.
Following the speeches, local congregational cantors took to the stage to lead the singing of some traditional Israeli songs. The Teen Mission kids, plus some Israelis and others from the audience, came up to the bimah to sway with their arms around each other’s while singing. A group of teens on the bimah also started dancing, as most of the crowd started to leave.
“This was mind-blowing,” said Jonny Alster, co-chair of Detroit’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) region in the Central Galilee. He and about 20 others from the Israeli steering committee were in town to attend the 13th anniversary celebration of the Israeli camper program at Camp Maas (Tamarack) in Ortonville on July 20.
“We came here on Sunday, and were at JFK airport when we learned of the death of 13 IDF soldiers,” he said. “If we had been on a business trip, we would have turned around and come back to Israel. But we knew we were going to family and that we would get through it together. This evening was amazing, so heart-warming.”
Ziva Ohayon Recht, director of the P2G in the Central Galilee, said, “The love and care that comes from this community gives us strength. It’s such a genuine love from the heart.”
Sarah Waldshan of Farmington Hills said, “I was so elated to see such a large turnout, especially of young people.”
Ella Rogov of Farmington Hills is an Israeli who wants to do more, such as getting community members out on the streets with signs to show their public support for Israel. She loved seeing all those at the event who care about Israel. “It’s important for me to see the support,” she said. “It’s important for all of us.”
Keri Guten Cohen | Story Development Editor
Top photo: Brett Mountain
Other photos: John Hardwick