Approximately 5,000 people attended Jerusalem United, a rally and concert to keep Jerusalem completely under Israeli sovereignty, held on Sunday, March 23, 2008 at The Armory in the Washington Heights section of New York City. The event was presented by the National Council of Young Israel, the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, and the Israel Solidarity Fund of America. All proceeds from the event will benefit victims of terror in Israel, displaced families of Gush Katif, and future projects in Jerusalems Old City.
For three hours, the capacity crowd joined together in unison to voice its opposition to the division of Jerusalem. In addition, the event served as a tribute to the eight young students who were killed on March 6, 2008, when an Arab gunman opened fire inside Yeshiva Merkaz Harav Kook in Jerusalem.
The program featured musical presentations by Jewish musical sensation Yaakov Shwekey, the world famous group Shalsheles, and an-up-and-coming band, Yaakov Chesed. In addition, there were inspirational guest speakers and heartwarming videos of Jerusalem. Guest speakers included Former Member of Knesset Natan Sharansky, Rabbi Benny Eisner of Yeshiva Merkaz Harav Kook in Jerusalem, National Council of Young Israel President Shlomo Mostofsky, and Daniel Luria, the Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim in Israel.
The program opened with National Council of Young Israel Executive Vice President Rabbi Pesach Lerner leading the crowd in the recitation of a chapter from Psalms, followed by a tefillah on behalf of the Israeli MIAs â€ Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, Gilad Schalit, Yehuda Katz, Tzvi Feldman, Guy Hever, Ron Arad, and Zachary Baumel. Rabbi Lerner also led the crowd in a special prayer, composed by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, on behalf of Jonathan Pollard.
One of the most memorable moments of the afternoon came when Rabbi Benny Eisner, a teacher at Yeshiva Merkaz Harav Kook, addressed the crowd. Rabbi Eisner taught the eight young men who were tragically killed in the recent terrorist attack at Yeshiva Merkaz Harav Kook. At the funeral for the young boys, Rabbi Eisner led the mourners in the recital of Psalms. During the week of shiva which followed the attack, Rabbi Eisner spent his days going from house to house to visit the families of the young victims.
Rabbi Eisner discussed how just two weeks ago he had been learning with the boys, and spoke about the fact that he could never have imagined that just two weeks later he would be speaking at a rally and concert in New York City held in their memory. He also spoke about the inconceivable notion of dividing Jerusalem.
Jerusalem does not belong to the Israeli government; it belongs to the Jewish nation - to Am Yisrael, said Rabbi Eisner.
Following the rally and concert, Yudi Zuller of the Israel Solidarity Fund of America noted how heartwarming it was to see the tremendous number of young people in attendance for such an important event. In fact, on several different occasions during the concert, musical performer Yaakov Shwekey invited young children up on to the stage and danced with them as he sang songs about Jerusalem.
The inspiration behind the Jerusalem United rally and concert came from Yudi (Jay) Zuller and his wife Aviva, who run the Israel Solidarity Fund of America (ISFA). Established in 2002 after a rash of terror bombings in Israel, the ISFA is a private tzedaka organization based in the Willowbrook section of Staten Island, New York. Yudi and Aviva Zuller have made the welfare of their brothers and sisters in Israel victimized by Arab terror their lifes work and primary mission.
The ISFA is unique in that virtually every dollar that is raised through its efforts gets distributed directly to Israeli victims of Arab terror and/or their families. These families, which have to first endure the shock and pain after an attack, often later find themselves in dire financial situations due to the loss of income and additional medical expenses. They need continuing financial support to help them with their long-term recoveries.
The main source of the funds distributed by the ISFA has been the Shirei Shalom Concert Series. Staged at the Center for the Performing Arts at the College of Staten Island for four consecutive years and at the Colden Center at Queens College in 2007, these sold-out concerts that feature Jewish musics most popular performers have raised close to $1,000,000 for victims of terror in Israel. That is the equivalent of close to 2,000 families who have received funds from Mr. Zuller and the ISFA.
At the Jerusalem United rally and concert, Yudi Zuller recalled how as a young boy his parents would bring him to Solidarity Sunday events on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Zuller discussed the importance of having people involved in causes that are vital to the survival of the Jewish nation, and thanked the many students from numerous Jewish high schools throughout the New York metropolitan area who volunteered to help make the Jerusalem United event a tremendous success.
Zuller also spoke about the importance of speaking out to make sure that Jerusalem remains united and the dangers of dividing Jerusalem. You cannot divide the indivisible, Zuller said.
According to the Young Israel website, "Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, it has become absolutely clear to all that Jerusalem, in its entirety, belongs and will belong to the Jewish nation forever. Jews throughout the world recognize how fortunate they are to be able to freely visit Jerusalem with their families, and how wonderful it is that so many Jews are now able to own real estate in the eternal capital.
"However, the fate of Jerusalem suddenly appears to be in jeopardy. Political leaders in Israel, who in the past loudly proclaimed that Jerusalem would forever remain united under Jewish sovereignty, have reversed their position and are now willing to give parts of the holy city away in the hopes of achieving a lasting peace. They have not learned the tragic lesson of giving away Gush Katif, as they seem to ignore the fundamental truth that there are no true partners for peace and no amount of concessions will satisfy those whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the State of Israel.
"Jews in the Diaspora have pondered how to respond to this troubling turn of events. There are those who are wrapped up in their own busy lives and hope that someone in Israel will take care of Jerusalem. There are those who have argued that the final fate of Jerusalem is an internal Israeli matter for those who live within her borders and not meant for Diaspora Jews to concern themselves with."
According to Zuller, Jerusalem belongs to all Jews, irrespective of where they reside, and it is therefore incumbent upon Jews throughout the world to cry out together, in unison, for Jerusalems sake.
Rabbi Lerner concurred. We cannot remain silent as the unthinkable threat of a divided Jerusalem begins to take shape, said Lerner, We need to voice our deep opposition with a renewed sense of purpose and let everyone know that we will do everything in our power to ensure that Jerusalem remains united and is not taken from us.
Jerusalem does not belong to the Israeli government; it belongs to the Jewish nation - to Am Yisrael, said Rabbi Eisner. A rather odd comment, given that the goal of the entire event was to advocate the entire Jerusalem being under the sovereignty of the Israeli government. If he really does not care about the Israeli government, only about Jerusalem and its connection to the Jewish people, he should be just as happy with Jerusalem under a Palestinian government. The centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish religion would not change then, just as it did not change when Jerusalem was ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Caliphs, the Crusaders, the Mongols, the Ottomans or the British.
But later in the article the real reasons for this insistence on Israeli sovereignty are revealed: "Jews throughout the world recognize how fortunate they are to be able to freely visit Jerusalem with their families, and how wonderful it is that so many Jews are now able to own real estate in the eternal capital." So it's about vacations and real estate. That is why Jerusalem is central to the Jewish religion!
In general, we must keep in mind that the Zionism of these Young Israel groups is born of ignorance and patriotism, not of analysis of the facts of Jewish texts and Jewish history. Jews Against Zionism have already made efforts to reach out to educate Jews in religious Zionist environments by placing the book "In the Footsteps of the Flock" in Young Israel and similar synagogues throughout Brooklyn. Now we call upon our dedicated readership to help us extend this project outside Brooklyn as well. If you live near a Young Israel or other Zionist-oriented synagogue, and are willing to place a copy of "In the Footsteps of the Flock" on the shelf there, please write to us in the "ask the rabbi" section of this site, give us your address, and we will mail you the book for no charge.