Within sight of the glass walled MTV studios where teenage girls usually jump and down waiting for the members of their favorite boy bands, Avraham Fried was performing. The sun shone brightly off the skyscrapers, metal and glass reflecting the light and heat like mirrors as he effortlessly jumped back and forth. The campers who had come from their day camps, the boys in orange and the girls in pink, repeated the song after him. Gush Katif, you are not alone. A black bicycle messenger rode by and flashed two fingers in a V, Peace Out.
Orange was everywhere. Orange bracelets, orange t-shirts, orange buttons and even orange pants. One woman had dyed her dark hair bright orange. Girls tore strips from orange cloth and handed them out to people. Soon they were flapping as armbands, bandannas, headbands, neckties and wrapped around pony tails. The strips of orange cloth were passed hand to hand. Above them waved the green and yellow banners brought by Chabad. Poster boards were taken out and hand lettered signs made. The crowds drifted in filling up the sidewalk on three sides of the streets and the police continued to set up new barriers to accommodate the overflow.
I had been at a lot of rallies over the years since Israel had begun to head on the path of self-destruction and surrender and encouragement of terrorism. Rabin. Peres. Barak. Netanyahu and now Sharon. There were some in the crowd, an attitude not limited to age, who thought victory would be Sharon's fall from power but Sharon was only another general turned political. It was an attitude we were truly fighting. An attitude of hopelessness and futility. The black hole politicians look into when they see the future and turn on their own people. Rabbi Riskin stood on the makeshift stage and called, "Ayeca where are you Arik? You Who helped build the settlements?"
Rabbi Riskin had run the Lincoln Square Synagogue twenty blocks or so from here turning it from a Conservative Shul to an Orthodox one before being persuaded by Israel's then ambassador, Yitzchak Rabin to move to Israel. Now Rabbi Riskin was the Chief Rabbi of Efrat and had spent the time since Oslo struggling to understand what had gone wrong with the people who had once supported the settlements. A gentle soft spoken man who still spoke in a conciliatory manner emphasizing that Sharon was not a dictator, he appealed to him in the name of humanity. He had once marched in the Civil Rights marches with a Sefer Torah. In Israel he had been arrested and the Sefer Torah taken from him. After the assassination of Rabin he had sat on a Nightline panel while Chaim Ramon and the left wing panelists had blustered and threatened.
"If you do not follow our democracy, we will crush you!" Ramon had shouted. He had not crushed Rabbi Riskin who had gone on trying to gently explain what was wrong with the situation. At the hilltop the settlers had taken near Efrat, the police had dragged him down along with his Sefer Torah and taken the Sefer Torah from him and he had never become angry. He had not learned anger now and he still had hope. He had not been crushed either by becoming afraid and dispirited as Ramon and the other thugs of the Labor party hoped, nor had he become crushed by becoming cynical, bitter and hatefull. Instead he was the same gentle man appealing in a conciliatory tone to the humanity of Ariel Sharon, the man who was sending out police to stop buses and arrest their drivers for merely heading in the same direction as Gush Katif. Rabbi Riskin had not been crushed.
Avraham Fried danced back and forth pivoting easily despite the heat which nearly reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He seemed to have boundless energy. A woman who had come in a wheelchair smiled to see the children dance as he danced. The police waved taxis and trucks through. A businessman in the back of a limousine looked up from his blackberry trying to make sense of the scene. Another driver passing by yelled something out the window but it was impossible to hear. The river of steel and flesh that is New York traffic flowed through one of its greatest channels, Times Square between us. The diminutive Charlotte of AFSI (Americans for a Safe Israel) which had been organizing poorly attended rallies year after year, moved back and forth through the crowd selling orange bracelets for Gush Katif. Her head barely reached the blockades and she was old but not the oldest one there. A man in his 80's had come from Long Island. He attended every rally. Even if Israel had given up on itself, he had not given up on Israel and he never will.
So many Jews had come here now. At every rally you think no one will come. You see the few who have gathered here behind the barricades and you judge the rally a failure but then they come streaming in. Chabad Hassidim in black hats and open white shirts. They tied orange ribbons around their black hats like festive puritans. Campers came from day camps on worn yellow buses chanting, "Torah Tzivah Lanu Moshe". Women in tank tops and long dresses. Men in black and t-shirts and baseball caps. A black woman with a baby and a little boy with a yarmulke watched from her seat. An Asian group moved through the crowd, one of them wearing an orange yarmulke for Gush Katif. It was almost an ingathering of exiles from all the four corners of the world. A man passed by in a New York Yankees tee, his arms covered in colorful tattoos, on the back of his neck the tattoo was simpler though; "Never Forget."
That is what a rally truly is. Politicians do not listen to rallies and if Sharon will not listen to 200,000 Israelis, would he really listen to 10,000 at Times Square? A rally is an act of remembrance. We remember who we are. We gather together to remember the truth and make it clear so that others will remember it too. Throughout the shadow of Oslo we had gathered by the tens, by the hundreds and rarely by the thousands to remember what was true in a world overshadowed by propaganda and lies when Israel is blamed for everything by the world, by the Arabs and by the Left both here and in Israel. We remember the truth.
On the stage Dov Hikind spoke. Dr. Frager who has fought tirelessly for Yerushalayim, the President of Young Israel, Pesach Lerner and Morton Klein of ZOA who had taken over Rabbi Stephen Wise's organization and turned it into a true Zionist organization which had fought for Israel when AIPAC was showing Palestinian lobbyists around Capitol Hill and introducing them to congressmen. Dov Hikind finished his speech and wandered back into the crowd. Charlotte passed him, her little arm covered in orange bracelets. Banners and flags waved on all sides of the street. Former Nixon White House official G. Gordon Liddy spoke by cell phone but no one could hear him. The yellow buses took the campers home but the rally was still going strong.
On stage Rocky Ziegler sang, "the enemy will not conquer us." The crowd swayed and sang along. The sun which had faded brightened and came out again to shine in its fierce light. There were no news updates but we knew in Israel the true heroes and marchers were under siege now at Kfar Maimon. The burning sun we felt was only a little of what they were going through. Men and women circulated through the crowd with water pouring out something to drink for the rally participants and sharing their water. Water is spirt and in sharing it a little of the spirt of Gush Katif was here too.
(a modified version of this article appeared as a Jewish Press Op-Ed at the end of July 2005)