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Solidarity rally for Israel canceled

NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (JTA) — In light of this week’s devastating terror attacks, organizers have canceled the huge pro-Israel solidarity rally planned for Sept. 23 in New York.

“Our energies are all being directed in support of the people of New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and all those affected directly and indirectly by the terrorist attack,” said Marvin Lender, the rally’s chairman.

Ensuring the security of potentially tens of thousands in the street was not the issue, said Lender.

“We thought it would be terribly insensitive for us to put that kind of pressure on New York’s public safety resources,” he said. “They have their hands full, and will have them full for some time to come.”

As of Wednesday, up to 300 New York firefighters and police officers were missing and presumed dead, in addition to what could be thousands of other victims.

The cancellation was initiated by the rally’s primary organizer, the United Jewish Communities, not at the behest of the city, Lender said.

“As my mother would say, we tried to be menschen: We didn’t wait for anyone to ask us not to do it,” he said.

At this point, it is unclear whether the UJC, the umbrella for Jewish community federations in North America, will reschedule the rally. Lender said organizers are thinking about rescheduling it “but have not yet concluded how we will proceed.”

The rally, which was planned for months, had been expected to attract thousands of Jews from across North America, spanning the spectrum of Jewish religious and political life. It was to have featured, among others, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The rally had originally been planned for June 4, but was postponed. UJC said then it could not guarantee Sharon’s presence or security.

Although the rally enjoyed widespread support, there had been some debate within the community about whether the $1 million-plus price tag for such an event was the best use of communal funds. Some had suggested the money would be better spent underwriting American solidarity trips to Israel.

After the announcement Wednesday, local federation officials voiced support for the cancellation.

“This was the only decision that could be made,” said Judy Gilbert- Gould, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Miami had planned to send a contingent of up to 200 members to take part in the New York rally.

“After the events yesterday, this is a time when we have to come together as a nation and heal,” Gilbert-Gould said.

“It should be our priority, rather than our No. 1 priority as American Jews, which is solidarity with Israel.”

One communal official said he hopes the rally had been only postponed, not canceled altogether.

The need to send the message of solidarity to Israel, and to the world, still exists, said Leonard Cole, chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which played a leading role in planning the rally.

“One could read into a cancellation a win for the terrorists, but that would be absolutely wrong,” Cole said.

“We are certainly not less supportive of Israel,” he said. “If anything, the horror of this event should strengthen our resolve to stand up to terrorism, to find the perpetrators and sponsors of the terrorists, and to bring these people to account.”

Instead of rallying on Sept. 23, Lender urged American Jewry to “lead the greater community in reflecting our support and our concern for those people who have lost family and friends.”

Regardless of whether the rally is rescheduled, Lender expressed optimism that the community would be able to harness the energy of the coalition he had helped to assemble.

“As we were able to build this coalition,” he said, “we will continue to work with these same organizations to deal with the challenges that we will face in the future, both short and long term.”

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