For most New Yorkers, it was just another Sunday.
The frigid temperatures kept many in this diverse city of millions inside, unaware that a crowd that could populate a small Midwestern city was coming together to remember the passing of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
But for others, especially protesters and those left out in the cold, this Sunday was one that would create memories – mostly negative ones.
Outside the Duane Reade drugstore in the labyrinthine Penn Station, just below the Madison Square Garden site of the rally for Israel, a disgruntled group from northern New Jersey clearly felt let down.
The rally was under way as they waited, talking to each other about their frustration.
“All of the tickets for groups were given to individuals,” said Dr. David Namerow of Temple Israel in Ridgewood, N.J.
“We feel disappointed. We wanted to be part of a rally that is important to us.”
Namerow was part of a contingent of 150 to 200 people that had come to the rally to show support for the government and the people of Israel and the pursuit of peace.
Other frustrated individuals who had journeyed to take part in the gathering were luckier.
“It was an unbelievable nightmare” out there, said Ira Orchin of suburban Philadelphia as he entered the Garden a full hour after the ceremonies began.
Orchin, who had come with a bus from Congregation Mishkin Shalom, said the lines and the disorganization that greeted their arrival was frustrating.
“Our tickets were given away, but somehow we managed to get in,” he said, his preteen daughter in two.
Others stayed outside for a different reason: They opposed what was going on inside.
Two groups across the street from the station – each enclosed by police barricades – protested the event, despite the bitter cold.
Police presence was heavy throughout the area; officers were visible at every turn.
One of the groups, comprised of four people, was surrounded by six New York City police officers.
But officers outside Penn Station said that for a rally of this size – an estimated 15,000 people turned up – no unusual police activity had taken place.
Protesters shouted, blew whistles and distributed leaflets. Some carried signs that said “Rabin Is A Traitor.” One sign showed Rabin and Prime Minister Shimon Peres – both giving the straight-armed Nazi salute – at the center of two targets.
The group was led by Rabbi Mordechai Friedman of the Borough Park section Brooklyn, N.Y. The president of a group calling itself the American Board of Rabbis, Friedman said Yigal Amir, Rabin’s confessed assassin, was justified to kill under Jewish law.
Rabin was an “apostate” and a “heretic,” Friedman said.
“God gave us this land,” Friedman said of the Jewish state.
A news release Friedman pulled out of his briefcase stated, “Rabin desecrated Judaism publicly and maliciously by violating the Sabbath, eating dog flesh in Japan, pork in New York.”
It also stated that Rabin “violated the covenant between the Almighty and the Jewish people by giving up Judea and Samaria to Arafat, that is punishable by excision from Judaism.” Yasser Arafat is the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
About 30 feet away, a group of six people who described themselves as religious Jews, sang “David, Melech Yisrael,” a well-known Hebrew children’s song about King David.
These protesters took a less strident tone, saying that they mourned Rabin’s death and did not condone murder, but were protesting the absence of any opposition leader at the rally.
Brown pieces of paper taped over their mouths read: “When only one vote is heard, is this a unity rally? Where is Weizman? Where is Bibi?”
Both Israeli President Ezer Weizman and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu were not invited to the event, which evoked much debate in the American Jewish community. Their inclusion in the rally apparently would have appeased some of the right-wing Jews who did not attend the event.
Another person held a sign high above his head that showed a concentration camp victim wearing the yellow Star of David. The sign said: “Why Is Israel’s Future Decided By Arab Knesset Members?”
Stuart and Robin Einbinder of West Hempstead, Long Island, were part of this group. They spoke through the brown pieces of paper that covered their mouths.
“We are afraid of Oslo,” Robin Einbinder said, referring to the Israeli- Palestinian peace accords.
Her husband, Stuart, said Rabin was “misguided, not a traitor.”