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With Money and Marches, Jews Show Support for Israel

Southland: The congregants raise millions. Some criticize Israeli policies.

April 09, 2002|TERESA WATANABE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In their biggest mobilization for Israel in a decade, Southern California Jews are raising millions of dollars, holding rallies and rushing to the region to show support as escalating Mideast violence stirs anguish, anger and a zeal to help.

While the unrelenting bloodshed has provoked some American Jews into questioning Israeli policies against Palestinians, the crisis has united many others in solid and astonishingly generous support of the Jewish state.

On one recent morning during Passover, for instance, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles alone raised $1.4 million in humanitarian aid. On Monday, more than a dozen Los Angeles Jewish leaders departed for Israel with pledges for millions more.

John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, will deliver $1 million in humanitarian aid this week as the first installment of a $10-million fund-raising campaign for Israel.

The money is part of American Jewry's national campaign to raise more than $200 million for the Jewish state, which requested the emergency aid after more than 18 months of violence with Palestinians has ravaged its economy, officials said.

Fishel said the money will be used for such services as support for Israeli hospitals, emergency medical supplies, grief counseling and care for orphans of violence. Some of the money will be targeted to improve emergency response systems in Tel Aviv, an informal sister city of Los Angeles, Fishel said.

"People here feel anguish and a lot of deep, deep concern that something about this crisis is clearly different," Fishel said. "Many of us believe that what we're looking at is the survival of the Jewish state."

A group of 13 prominent Southern California rabbis, drawn from Judaism's four major movements, headed for Israel on Monday with $15,000 in cash and gifts after a stop in Germany to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. The trip is organized by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Among the participants is Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark of Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, who is bringing solar-powered calculators, jazz compact discs and more than $5,000 in cash. Goldmark, a former rabbinical board president, said his politics are more liberal than the present Israeli government's but that the present crisis was no time to be critical.

"My overall feelings are for the people of Israel--both the Jews and Arabs," he said. "When you're at war, and I believe Israel is at war, you just have to have unity."

Some Jews, however, have mobilized on the issue in a different way: as what they call "loving critics" of Israel. Last week, a group calling itself "Women in Black," whose members are mostly Israelis and American Jews, demonstrated in front of the Israeli consulate on Wilshire Boulevard. More than 100 participants bore signs urging the Israeli government to "Free Palestine" and "End the Israeli Occupation."

Sarah Jacobus, a Reform Jew who co-founded the Los Angeles branch of the international women's group in 1989, said her opposition to the occupation stems from her love of Israel and her Jewish values of social justice.

Jacobus, a Los Angeles writer, said images of Israeli tanks rolling into Palestinian cities and Palestinian women compelled to give birth on sidewalks because they were not allowed to pass checkpoints had touched her heart. They caused her to question messages she grew up with to "support Israel, right or wrong."

"Loving, constructive criticism of Israel is not only permissible but absolutely essential," Jacobus said. "It is not our vision to see Israel as an occupying power and a militarized society."

Jewish officials say such sentiments are in the minority as most American Jews primarily blame Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the prolonged violence and rush to support the Jewish homeland. On Sunday, more than 2,000 people turned out to support Israel in a Westwood rally sponsored by the Jewish Federation, various synagogues and other major Jewish organizations.

In addition, some synagogues have begun to mobilize. Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, whose 3,500 families make it the largest Reform congregation in the nation, is asking congregants to participate in four projects this month to support Israel. They are: a "solidarity seder" April 17 to commemorate the 26 Jews killed and more than 100 wounded by a Palestinian suicide bombing on Passover last month; a rally and family gathering April 21 at Woodley Park in Encino; an educational campaign to learn more about the crisis; and monetary contributions.

"The best response to feelings of despair and helplessness is to do something," said Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen Wise.

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