“This is just like camp,” someone joked while boarding the bus in the parking lot of Lower Merion Synagogue. The group, was bound for a day in New York City’s Times Square to protest the Iran Deal.
NEW YORK CITY — More than 50 people hopped on the bus idling in the parking lot of Lower Merion Synagogue last Tuesday afternoon. The group, some wearing baseball caps, sunglasses and sandals, was bound for a day in New York City’s Times Square.
The bus was full of enthusiasm: “This is just like camp,” someone joked while boarding and watching everyone mingle in their seats.
But among this outwardly easygoing group, it was obvious that they came prepared to do something much more substantive than sightseeing. Armed with megaphones, anti-Iran signs, T-shirts and Israeli flags, they were going to “the crossroads of the world” to be part of the Philadelphia-area contingent going to protest against the proposed deal with Iran.
Halfway through the drive, they booed in unison with every mention of Iran, shaking the bus with the applause for Israel.
The group crammed into the city with an ecumenical, bipartisan crowd numbering more than 10,000, and which included Christians and Jews, Republicans and Democrats, to name just a few of the disparate groups that united in the heart of the city to denounce the proposed United States-led nuclear deal with Iran.
The Stop Iran Rally was coordinated by the Jewish Rapid Response Coalition in partnership with more than 80 other sponsors. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the rally organizer, said he and several other JRRC members put their know-how and connections together to create this event.
He said there are very few Jewish organizations that solely advocate for Jews themselves, and this rally represented standing up for them and for Israel.
Wiesenfeld said the agreements between the U.S. and Iran are essentially a negotiation for surrender, but with hard work from citizens, he thinks the deal can be undone.
“It’s not just enough that they vote for this,” he said. “This must be stopped for the security of the United States, for the future of Israel, for the future of the Jewish people; now is the time for Jews to act.”
Speakers at the rally — including congressmen and Israel advocates — echoed Wiesenfeld’s view of the deal and urged the crowd to contact their local congressmen to vote against the deal.
Lower Merion resident Ed Dvir coordinated the trip. He leads a group called Pro-Israel Activists Coalition and also runs a listserv for Jews in Lower Merion, which he described as a Craigslist for the Jewish community. He said it wasn’t long after the deal was first announced when people began contacting him about any anti-Iran events in the Philadelphia area.
Dvir said he didn’t know of any events taking place, but after reading all 159 pages of the Iran deal himself, he organized a bus trip to take people to the rally. Among the mishmosh of mishpocheh were locals interested in the issue and Philadelphia members of the Zionist Organization of America.
“I just wanted to make sure that Philadelphians had an opportunity to have their voices heard in their small way,” Dvir said.
He said he hopes he can arrange another local rally or event for the community in the near future.
Betsy Rentz, also of Lower Merion, was proud to attend the rally. Although impressed by the size of the rally, she felt disappointed that so few people nationally are fighting against this issue.
“There are times in our lives when there are issues that are so critical that you have to show up and be counted,” she said.
Rentz said this issue is analogous to how the world was silent in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise, and she didn’t want to stand by and watch the possibility of something similar.
She said this deal is scary and risky for the U.S. Although Iran would be without nuclear weapons for 10 years, she said it wouldn’t make much of a difference for the safety of this country. She compared this gap of time to the eight years it took the Nazis to establish gas chambers.
As a result, she said, more Jews need to wake up and voice their opinions.
“This is a huge threat for my children and everybody’s children,” she said, “and I don’t ever want my kids to someday say to me, ‘Well, what did you do to prevent this?’ I can say, ‘I tried.’ ”
Another participant at the rally looking to make his voice heard was not a member of the Philadelphia delegation, but had a strong connection of his own to the issue.
Mandel Bar-David is a Persian Orthodox Jew who didn’t have to travel as far to get to the rally. The 22-year-old hates large crowds, and often doesn’t go to Manhattan from his home in Crown Heights for that reason, but he felt compelled to attend this rally.
Some of his family still lives in Iran. He said it is wrong that they can’t go outside while wearing a kipah without facing scrutiny.
Bar-David said he connects to this issue as a Jew more than an American citizen or a Persian.
He said it hurts him to see other Jews supporting Iran when Israel should be the focus of united support from the community.
“If we lived” in Iran, he asked rhetorically, “would they care for us? Would they be talking about our faith and supporting us? I don’t think so — they’re killing us.”
He said he wanted to stand up for his Jewish pride at the rally and give both Chasidim and Persians a good name.
As the crowd started to pick up again in volume and energy, Bar-David raised his voice as well, cheering “Am Yisrael Chai” three times in a row.
“My family is Persian, but I would never in my life support Iran. I am not Iranian,” he said. “I am Jewish. I am Israeli.”
Kevin Ross, co-president of the ZOA Greater Philadelphia District, took the three-hour bus ride to the city as well because he said he refused to stand by and do nothing.
“This rally is about making our voice heard, and hopefully the politicians will listen to our voice,” he said.
Ross said this deal paves the way for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, which can impact not only Israel, but also America.
“There are anti-Semitic people out there that make accusations that Jews are primarily concerned about Israel. I’m an American. I live here,” he said. “I think it’s important to say that first and foremost, as an American, this is an American issue, and I think that when people only mention the threats to Israel, it gives a false perception that it’s only a risk to Israel.”
Ross said this deal correlates to the privilege of maintaining a driver’s license. If someone is a serious alcoholic and regularly drives while intoxicated, that privilege and responsibility should be revoked. By the same token, he said, the U.S. is giving “the most dangerous regime in the world the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
“I love my country and I love my family. This deal is a serious threat to both,” Ross said.