Look Who's Rallying... by Judy Lash Balint Jewsweek
November 27, 2002
Udi and Chezi, IDF soldiers with guns slung over their shoulders, grabbed Fay and Roy, adorned with small plastic British and Israeli flags, and swung them into the spontaneous circle of hora dancers outside Zion Gate of the Old City.
The soldiers and the Christian British visitors belted out Hava Nagila together to the accompaniment of an Israeli klezmer group. As the strains of Heveynu Shalom Aleichem reverberated off the Old City walls, hundreds of Israel supporters from all over the world gathered for a mass rally today.
Led by a coalition of American rabbis headed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, NJ, the flag-waving crowd wearing Rally in Israel sweat shirts and hats, and blowing oversize shofars (rams horns) paraded through the streets of the Jewish Quarter before arriving at the Hurva Square.
"We're happy that people came to tell us they love us," enthused Udi, the tall IDF tank commander with gelled hair.
The Christian Brits handed out postcards that included a verse from Isaiah (35:3) in Hebrew and English, proclaiming: Be Strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you."
But the main message of the card was a statement that read in part: "How grieved we are at the often critical stance taken by the leaders of our nation and our churches." Phil Hunter, leader of the Good News group, a tall, grey haired man with kind blue eyes, told me that he is appalled at the press in Britain. "They've forgotten that Christianity has Jewish roots," he said. "We fully support the right of the Jewish people to this land, all of this land," he continued. Hunter says that his 7-8,000 members try to correct the misinformation about Israel in the British media, but the most important thing they do is bring visitors to the Holy Land. Hunter himself has been here between 30-40 times--he's lost count, he tells me, as his compatriots wave their flags and signs behind him.
In fact, today's rally was co-sponsored by Israel's Ministry of Tourism, under the banner : Fighting Terrorism with Tourism. Some 400 people from abroad showed up for the event. Two years ago, that would have been a less than remarkable figure, but in today's visitor-less climate, it's a big deal.
In the Hurva Square, the tourists mingle with immigrants from the former Soviet Union and high school kids who have been bussed in. Ethiopians and a large representation of English-speaking immigrants and yeshiva and seminary students round out the crowd. The popular music group Reva L'Sheva share the stage with an Uzbek ensemble decked out in traditional dress. As the music soars with its rousing Jewish rythms, it's the Christians who are the most energized. They sway, dance and wave their flags and banners that proclaim: Christians For Israel (in English) : and Israel We Stand With You (in Hebrew)
Waves of speakers, including advisors to the Prime Minister, Dore Gold and Raanan Gissin, regale the supporters with gratitude and exhortations to come back and bring more people to visit.
The merchants and cafes around the square do their first brisk business since Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). But in the end, everyone knows that tomorrow quiet will descend once again.