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Federation President: 'We Are United in our Support for Israel'
Editor's Note: Sherrie Savett, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, delivered the following remarks at the Israel solidarity rally on July 23.
I am overwhelmed by this show of support for Israel. The fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of us here today, standing with our family in Israel, shows that this rally is highly necessary, for us and for the people of Israel. Thank you for being here.
I want to share the beautiful words of Rabbi Neil Cooper of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El, who cannot be here today because he is in Israel, regarding today’s rally: “To stand with Israel is not about politics. It is not about right and left, it is about right and wrong. Standing up for Israel in her time of need means to put aside...internal differences in order to come together and show that we are united in our support of and solidarity with Israel.”
I have been in constant contact with friends and representatives in Israel, and they told me something that surprised me: The men, women and children of Israel feel isolated. The Israelis are the most resilient people I have ever met. They are forever committed to living "normal" lives, despite living in the Middle East's sole democratic state. But nothing is normal right now. They have been barraged by on average 140 missiles a day for the past two weeks. They are being attacked by air, by sea and on their land in the South.
In some areas, especially in our Federation's partnership community Netivot-Sedot Negev, which is less than seven miles from Gaza, children cannot go to school or camp. Adults cannot work or run errands. They cannot be more than 15 seconds from a shelter. Taking a shower can be positively nerve wracking. Everyone is on edge. Children are simply traumatized.
The support of North American Jews and non-Jews — our support — is a major boost to the Israelis. Our support, both emotional and financial, really, really matters to the Israeli people. This rally today is critical.
Approximately six million Israelis are living under fire. Over the last two weeks, nearly 2,000 rockets were fired at Israel. Twenty-nine members of the IDF and three civilians have lost their lives. May their memories be for a blessing. This loss of life is a tragedy.
I must firmly say — every life lost is a tragedy, not just an Israeli life. Every person who has perished in this war was beloved by their family. We profoundly mourn the loss of innocent life on both sides of this painful conflict. We pray that peace to the region will be restored soon. Peace requires partners. Hamas must stop these daily and indiscriminate attacks. Their victimization of Israelis, as well as their own innocent people, whom they use as human shields for storing weaponry, is deplorable. It is time to put an end to the violence and prevent further unnecessary death and despair that has imperiled lives in both Israel and Gaza.
This is not a war of Israel’s choosing. We are being relentlessly attacked by Hamas, who is the clear aggressor. Prime Minister Netanyahu has make the key point that Israel uses its missile defense to protect its citizens, while Hamas uses its citizens to protect its missiles. Israel identifies targets that are rocket launchers and caches of lethal missiles, and, before bombing, the IDF warns Palestinian civilians to evacuate by dropping leaflets, phone calls and other means. Hamas urges these civilians to stay at the sites to be bombed or forces them to go back in.
Israel’s objective remains to restore quiet and security for the people of Israel. Israel is steadfast in its commitment to achieve these objectives.
But the violence rages on. What country can be expected to sit idly while rockets are fired at its citizens — at its children? Israel was forced into this operation in order to defend its people and its cities. No country could or should allow its citizens to be attacked in this way without responding. Our Federation has brought all of us together today to unite our voices in saying: ISRAEL HAS A RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF.
As you are aware, U.S. and European airlines suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv yesterday, and today the FAA extended its ban for another 24 hours. Now, more than ever, we must demonstrate our unwavering support for and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. Your presence here today is vitally important. We are videotaping this rally and sending the video to our Federation's partner community, so they know how much the people of Philadelphia care for them.
We all see disturbing images in the media from around the world showing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations. It becomes increasingly important for Israel to see images and to hear words of solidarity and love. Please know that your voices will be heard, your attendance today will be noted and your presence will be greatly appreciated by Israelis and Jews around the world who feel more vulnerable than we do living in our wonderful country.
I know some of you traveled far to be here today. I know some of you cut short your work day, and even cancelled vacations, to make sure you were here today. Thank you for giving Israel such a special place in your heart.
While Federation was the organizer of today's event, we certainly did not do it alone. More than 80 co-sponsors partnered with us to ensure all of us were here to stand with Israel today. I cannot thank these synagogues, schools and organizations enough for their vital support.
I want to extend a very special thank you to Councilman Jim Kenney who made all of the arrangements for us to hold this rally at LOVE Park. I also want to thank the Jewish Exponent, which has been such a steadfast partner of our Federation and Israel. I thank Terry Steen and Steen Outdoor Advertising, which very, very generously donated signage and billboards for today. I also thank our entire congressional delegation for their support of the House and Senate Resolutions in support of Israel. A number of elected officials who couldn't be here today have shared statements of support with us. I urge you to view these statements at jewishphilly.org/statements, and to thank these friends of Israel.