PRO-ISRAEL SUPPORTERS DEMONSTRATE UNWAVERING SOLIDARITY

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

On the evening of Wednesday, July 23, more than 2,000 Jews and non-Jews arrived on the grounds of the Selig Center in Midtown to take part in ATL Stands with Israel, a solidarity event organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta with over 45 community partners. Israelis living in Atlanta, friends, family, clergy, lay leaders and our friends gathered to support Israel while listening to inspiring speeches expressing Israel’s right to defend herself against incessant attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.

Federation President and CEO Michael Horowitz opened the evening with an impassioned speech about the Jewish people’s right to live freely in their homeland, followed by many other speakers representing religious, political and community leadership. Consul General Opher Aviran, who spoke as Israel’s official representative, summarized the evening by stating “America supports Israel.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made a surprise appearance at the rally, announcing to the crowd that despite the short notice, he cleared his schedule because of Israel’s importance to him and to Atlanta. Other speakers included Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, Rabbis Peter Berg of the Temple and Neil Sandler of Congregation Ahavath Achim, Reverend Dr. Mark Walker of Mount Paran North and Kelly Stewart of Christians United for Israel.

Federation Board Chair Howard Feinsand provided heartfelt words about the situation, having just returned from two Federation missions to Israel. Atlanta business leader Michael Kogon, who had been traveling around Israel at the time, told Federation leaders that he experienced “eight different air raid sirens that forced him into bomb shelters or to lie face down on the side of the road as rockets flew overhead.” He now understands “firsthand what the citizens of Israel have faced for days, weeks and years.” His email was read aloud at the event.

One of the final speakers was Barak Kurlander, a young IDF soldier working at Georgia’s Camp Coleman this summer, who inspired the crowd with his words of hope and strength. He requested from the IDF to be stationed on the front lines in Gaza so that he could join other young men and women making sacrifices for their country and, had he known what was going to be happening today, he would have turned down the summer camp opportunity to stay and fight alongside his fellow soldiers. Wednesday’s event was filled with hope, with many of the attendees draped in Israeli flags and holding signs with messages of support for Israel and the brave soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces. The atmosphere was charged with an energy that reinforced the knowledge that Israel indeed has many friends. After Rabbi Sandler closed the program with the Prayer for the State of Israel, followed by HaTikvah, the crowd dispersed and groups of people could be seen dancing and singing in the parking lot.

The rally was a wonderful expression of solidarity for the community, however, there is still work that has to be done. In response to the current crisis, JFGA, partnering with the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, World ORT, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israel Trauma Coalition and the Government of Israel, began the “Stop the Sirens” initiative to provide the people of Israel with critical and timely assistance. Every day, on the ground its in Israel, Federation is coordinating efforts with its coalition partners to deliver immediate assistance to those impacted by the emergency situation in Israel. The need is the greatest in the South, where rocket attacks have been most frequent, and where thousands of Jewish children, seniors and other vulnerable populations have only 15 seconds of warning to seek shelter.

Editor’s note: One hundred percent of the donations go directly to Israel. Donations can be made by visiting the JFGA website, www.jewishatlanta.org, or by calling JFGA at (404) 873-1661.