As fighting continued overseas, pro-Israel Pittsburghers packed a Squirrel Hill gymnasium and spilled out into a neighboring auditorium July 27 in support of the Jewish state. Representing diverse communal streams, the crowd of about 2,500 flooded the JCC’s Robinson Building waving Israeli flags and blue and white signs.
While awaiting entry into the rally, state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-District 23) explained that the gathering’s purpose was to “make sure the community understands what Israel is fighting for.”
“Israel protects its citizens and is stopping terrorism in the most humane way possible,” he said. “The opponent, Hamas, is putting its own citizens in harm’s way.”
Skip Grinberg, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, which organized the gathering, described it as a solidarity rally and supportive measure for Israel.
“We need to come together to show them our support,” said Grinberg.
Although originally intended to occur outdoors, inclement weather forced the event inside. Councilman Corey O’Connor praised the security measures undertaken and claimed, “It’s a good thing to be able to do these kinds of rallies in Squirrel Hill.”
Along with the Federation, more than 70 organizations co-sponsored the pro-Israel gathering. Federation chair Woody Ostrow opened the rally by thanking the sponsors and reciting the afternoon’s mantra: “We stand with Israel.”
For nearly an hour, politicians, lay leaders and religious figures voiced their support from the makeshift stage.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-District 12) called Israel “our nation’s most steadfast ally” and stated, “Let us all pray for peace for the innocent Israelis and Palestinian lives lost.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-District 18) said that Israel is the only state in the Middle East that exhibits religious tolerance.
Ostrow read a statement from U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-District 14) that declared, “We will not stand by as [Israel] remains under siege.”
Religious leaders, including Rabbis Amy Levin of Congregation Beth Shalom, Mark Mahler of Temple Emanuel and Daniel Yolkut of Congregation Poale Zedeck and Bishop Joseph L. Garlington Sr., senior pastor of Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, offered prayers and hopeful messages.
“We cannot be silent,” said Garlington. “It’s time to say something.”
Jan Levinson and Cindy Goodman-Leib shared a message from the mayors of Karmiel and Misgav, emphasizing that the city and region, as sister cities to Pittsburgh, are “Pittsburgh’s address in Israel.”
Applause routinely interrupted each of the presenters’ remarks, but the largest ovation came when Manny and Judi Kanal, Todd and Stacie Stufflebeam, Steven and Ilene Cohen, Jen Olbum, Zur and Jacqueline Goldblum, Steve and Lynn Berman and Andrew and Stacey Reibach, all of whom have children and family members serving or who have served in the Israeli Defense Forces, recited a prayer for Israeli soldiers.
Following the program, Todd Stufflebeam, who has three sons in Israel, commended those serving Israel.
The “IDF should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the way it is handling the evacuation of noncombatants,” he said.
For her part, Ilene Cohen, whose son Daniel is in the IDF, said that she was “overwhelmed by the generosity, support and honor bestowed on my sonfor serving.”
As the rally neared conclusion, representatives from the Diller Teen Fellows offered renditions of “Oseh Shalom” and “Am Yisrael Chai.” Steve Hecht, executive director of Beth El Congregation, who earlier performed the national anthem, sang the Israeli national anthem of “Hatikva.” Federation CEO Jeff Finkelstein encouraged participants to support the Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund and, turning to the sea of community members in the room, exclaimed, “What a showing of achdut for our community.”
While the JCC housed several thousand pro-Israel supporters, a group of approximately 25 dissenters gathered outdoors. Some participants of the counter rally donned fake blood, while others held signs and chanted anti-Israel epithets. Few participants of the pro-Israel rally acknowledged the small group of opponents.
“This isn’t about them,” CRC director Gregg Roman said of the protestors outside. “It’s about us.”
An earlier pro-Palestinian rally last Friday evening centered around Schenley Plaza — the second such rally in as many weeks — drew about 100 people, some of whom carried stuffed white sheets evoking images of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip carrying babies killed in Israeli airstrikes.
But the enormity of the numbers of people that turned out to support Israel was noteworthy.
Shayna Steibel, whose brother Micha is serving in Gaza, said that the pro-Israel rally demonstrated communal unity.
“Reform, Conservative, Orthodox,” she said, “we all have the same goal.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com. Angela Leibowicz contributed to this report.