Home JUNE 2024 Yom Ha’aztmaut

Yom Ha’aztmaut

Rivka Sonts and her 6-year-old daughter,
Esther, came out to show their Zionist pride.

Israel’s Birthday Celebrated by 300 in Highland Park

Neither the cloudy sky nor the clouds of war hanging over Israel could dampen the enthusiasm of the 300 supporters of Israel who turned out on Yom Ha’aztmaut to celebrate the 76th anniversary of the country’s independence.
    Rain began falling shortly before the group marched down Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, N.J., on May 14, waving Israeli flags and carrying posters showing the Hamas hostages. They crowded under Welkovits Pavilion for shelter, where they heard gruesome tales of the fighting in Gaza from a lone soldier originally from Edison who was home visiting family. Stories were shared about the adversities the Jewish homeland has had to overcome to become a thriving and growing democracy.
    Accounts of antisemitism Jewish students have encountered at the nearby New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University were recounted by the recent president of its Hillel.
    Mark Levenson, a longtime activist in state and national agencies promoting Israel, reflected on his many trips there and personal accounts of the current war against Hamas told to him by his nephew.
    The event, sponsored by Central New Jersey Stands with Israel and Peace of Mind, also featured the singing of Hatikvah and other songs and the signing of a giant card being sent to lone soldiers in Israel to show the community’s support. Passing cars at times honked their horns in support, but the event drew no protesters.
    Avrumi Davis, a reservist in the Gavati brigade who left his studies in a yeshiva to join the fighting, painted a frightening picture of what the unit discovered in the Jenin refugee camp.
    He spoke about the shock he experienced entering houses and finding  “an astounding array of weapons,” including guns, bomb-making laboratories and explosive devices.
    “At one house, we found not in the living room, it wasn’t in the den, but in the parent’s bedroom tons of explosives,” said Davis. “That meant they were making bombs. I couldn’t believe it.”

About 300 people gathered in the rain in Highland Park to celebrate Israel’s 76th birthday on Yom Ha’azmaut.

    In another instance, when Israeli Defense Forces  experts had been called to defuse explosive devices, the home exploded in flames. Palestinian firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze and as the IDF unit’s commander stood next to a firefighter the commander was shot.
    “We are all coming together to fight for our home,” noted Davis, who said he would be returning to his home in Hashmonim in Israel the following week.
    Ari Kolb of Highland Park, who served this  past year as president of Rutgers Hillel, recalled incidents from Palestinian supporters who set up an encampment on the Vorhees Mall, that instilled fear and concern among Jewish students.
    Students for Justice in Palestine had been suspended for a month earlier in the school year for violating the university’s code of conduct and is  on a year-long suspension.
    Kolb said anti-Israel sentiment began almost immediately in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas that left 1,200 dead Israeli civilians and more than 200 taken hostage. It is believed 100 are still being held.
    He said a candlelight vigil mourning the victims two days after the raid was interrupted by someone screaming “free Palestine.”  Kolb said other students were yelled at and told they were “settler colonialists while they were hanging posters of innocent civilians who were kidnapped.”

Faith Rost, left, and Debbie Gerber sign a card to be sent to Israel to support lone soldiers, who have no family in Israel.

    Yet he noted that despite the “doom and gloom” about the atmosphere on campus where the student body voted to endorse the Boycott Sanctions Divestment campaign against Israel, Kolb said, “At the end of the day the students are standing up to all the hate that’s coming in our direction.”
    Levenson’s connections to Israel run deep as he’s the co-chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, a member of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Zionist General Council and the American Zionist Movement and is past president of the Jewish Federations of New Jersey.
    Additionally, he told the crowd he currently has 16 nieces and nephews serving in the IDF.
    Levenson noted that on Oct. 7, the worst loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, reservists and soldiers ran to get weapons, including his nephew Ari. Not knowing what was happening because communication had been knocked out, Ari saw cars with dead people inside and slain bodies that had been booby-trapped as he raced to kibbutzim that had been attacked.

Benjamin Grunstein, 13, shows his Zionist pride.

    “No one can imagine the carnage,” Levenson said, and at one point the soldier standing next to Ari was shot in the neck, and as he was bleeding out his nephew tried to save him by pulling him to safety.
    For those in the multi-denominational crowd attending the celebration was a chance to demonstrate their pride in being Jewish and Zionists.
    Rabbi Eliot Malomet of the Highland Park Conservative Temple—Congregation Anshe Emeth said the turmoil on college campuses and what is being portrayed in the media is not the story of the Jewish people or Israel, “and we have to do whatever we can to change the narrative.”
    For others it was much simpler.
    Rivka Sonts and her daughter, Esther, 6, stood holding Israeli flags. When Esther was asked why she came, her mother chimed in, “Because her mommy is a big Zionist and longtime Israeli activist.”
    Benjamin Grunstein, 13, waved a large Israeli flag and said he was doing so “Because Jewish people have a home there.”
    Glenda Sherman, who described herself as “an ardent Zionist,” held a banner with her husband, Moshe,  because she wanted to make a statement that: “We support Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut.”

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly  daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.



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