NEW YORK, June 19 (JTA) — The umbrella of North American federations is set to unveil a multi-pronged, $4 million solidarity campaign titled “Israel NOW — and Forever.”
The United Jewish Communities project — which should receive final approval by late July — combines various advocacy, education and fund-raising activities and will last until winter, said Gail Hyman, UJC’s vice president for marketing and public affairs.
“We understand there’s a great desire for a national program,” Hyman said. “We have a responsibility to listen to our community and to offer the kind of program that will resonate from coast to coast. And unfortunately, that takes a little time. But now we have the support and we’re ready to act.”
The first step will be this weekend’s “Solidarity Shabbat” of UJC leadership in Jerusalem, where they will meet with Israeli leaders and hammer out final details of the campaign.
Among the other campaign highlights:
• Heavy promotion of solidarity missions to Israel.
• Advocacy- and media-training for campus and community activists, in conjunction with local Hillels and Jewish community relations councils, “to train their leadership to become strong advocates on behalf of Israel,” Hyman said.
• A fund-raising initiative to assist all Israeli families directly affected during the violence by death, injury, property destruction, psychological damage — “We understand there are lots of children having great difficulty,” Hyman said — and perhaps even economic support for small business owners.
• A “media tour” that will take Israeli spokesmen and U.S. Middle East experts — scholars, journalists and other opinion-shapers — into key communities across North America to meet with local media.
• A major mission to Israel, called “Journey to Solidarity I,” to be held Sept. 9-14.
• Production of 1 million leaflets, to be distributed Sept. 17 in all synagogues during Rosh Hashanah, to remind Jews of the need for solidarity. “As we sound the shofar this year, it will also be a call to action for every Jew in North America,” Hyman said.
• A Solidarity Shabbat on Sept. 22-23 that will reach out to synagogues, churches and university campuses to show that “support for Israel extends beyond the Jewish community,” Hyman said.
• A major outdoor rally in New York Sept. 23, with a concurrent rally possibly in Los Angeles. New York was chosen not only because of its huge Jewish community but because it is America’s “media capital,” Hyman said. The UJC also “wants our voices heard by members of the United Nations,” who will be convening their General Assembly just days later.
The intensified UJC campaign comes on the heels of a slew of pro- Israel rallies organized nationwide at the grassroots level.
Some Jewish activists say they now hope the federation establishment will be emboldened to take charge of the solidarity campaign more publicly.
“I can understand that they took a wait-and-see attitude,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, who co-chaired a rally Sunday that drew upward of 3,000 participants in sweltering Miami.
“But now that they’ve gotten the message that there is a serious commitment to do these things, they have the responsibility to take the ball and run with it,” Brander said. “And we’re there to work with them. We’re all serving the same cause.”
One turning point for activists was the June 1 terrorist bombing of a Tel Aviv disco, which killed 20 Israeli youngsters.
The massacre seemed to fuel the passion at a June 4 rally in New York, which was organized by an inter-denominational coalition of rabbis and drew some 10,000 participants.
A UJC rally originally scheduled for that day, which was to have included Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, reportedly fell through because of scheduling and security issues for Sharon.
In addition to Miami, smaller demonstrations have been held in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and Denver.
At the South Florida event, one activist drove from as far as St. Petersburg — more than four hours away — to learn how to organize a similar rally in his region, Brander said.
After initial hesitations, the local Jewish federations threw their weight behind the rally with finances and other resources, Brander said.
“My personal intuition is that if I put together a rally and it fails, well, it’s an Orthodox rabbi whose rally failed; here today, gone tomorrow,” Brander said. “But if the organized community puts together a rally and it fails, the consequences may be more significant in terms of how the public would view the organization, the Jewish community and the state of Israel.”
Hyman, though, maintains that since the outbreak of Mideast violence, “there’s been a lot of activity that has taken place and that continues to take place,” including more than 100 rallies and numerous community-based missions to Israel.
Brander and other activists, meanwhile, have called for a “March on Washington” similar to the Dec. 6, 1987 rally in the nation’s capital demanding freedom to emigrate for Soviet Jews.
“If there is no public display at the national level, there’s a group of us committed to creating that display — and I think we have the wherewithal to do it,” Brander said.
But the activists hope UJC will take the lead.
Hyman said the UJC will deliver its message to Washington at the organization’s General Assembly Nov. 9-14.
Besides, the UJC has its plate full for the coming months.
“This is only phase one of Israel NOW,” Hyman said. “Unfortunately, we anticipate that we’ll have to continue the program beyond this year.”