NEW YORK (Apr. 12)
The teachers at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in the Bronx gave their students a democratic choice: attend class, or take to the streets to demand the release of 13 Jews in Iran accused of spying for Israel and the United States.
The yeshiva students voted, resoundingly, in favor of protest.
So they boarded a bus Wednesday to be among the hundreds of demonstrators who prayed, sang and chanted "Let Them Go!" on a windy New York City street corner.
"We feel this is a repetition of the fake show trials that happened against Jews in Europe," said Leeya Hadas Preiss-Bloom, 14. "We won’t stand for it anymore."
Her classmate, 13-year-old Anna Hertzberg, added, "We want to show Iran that it’s no crime to be Jewish."
Organizers of the Leadership Prayer Vigil said their aim was twofold: to voice their disgust at Iran’s treatment of the Jews and to inject Jewish consciousness with the spirit of solidarity and activism.
About 500 protesters were on hand — half of them schoolchildren — though another three busloads of kids were said to have gotten stuck in the midday traffic.
"Tyranny draws no distinction between Sephardi or Ashkenazi," said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis. "Not only do we share the same faith with the Jews of Iran, but we share their fate."
Yet, it’s unclear whether Iran — whose Mission to the United Nations is located in a skyscraper near the demonstrations — was fazed by the one-hour vigil.
The trial was still scheduled for Thursday, amid concerns worldwide that the Jewish prisoners will receive neither a free nor fair trial.
In a similar case three years ago, two Iranian Jews were executed in Tehran.
"The Talmud teaches that when one saves even a single life, it is as if the entire world is saved," Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the crowd. "We are here, Jews and non-Jews alike, to raise our voices in harmony for the freedom of these 13 people whose lives hang in the balance."
There were indeed several Christian leaders in attendance, but the vigil was clearly a Jewish happening.
To somehow humanize a trial that will take place roughly 8,000 miles away, vigil organizers handed out placards with the names and ages of the "Iran 13." They range from 16 to 48 years old. All are Orthodox, and most are community or religious leaders.
"We have to put a name to this story," said Hillary Barr, of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns — Amcha, who was one of those passing out signs. "For the people here, it brings" the prisoners "closer to them. For the passers-by, it shows that we care about each and every individual."
This vigil, said Schneier, will be a model for Jewish activists across the country.
Schneier was scheduled to speak at another vigil Wednesday night in Great Neck, N.Y., which has a significant Iranian Jewish population.
On Sunday in Los Angeles, the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations was scheduled to hold another vigil in conjunction with the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.