Over the past month, two local events were organized in response to the war waged by Hamas against Israel On July 17, the Baltimore Vaad HaRabbonim convened a Communal Gathering for Unity and Prayer at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, and on July 21, The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore organized a gathering of solidarity at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts. The organizers deserve credit for convening these events, which were both well attended.
However, when Israel is under attack from a vicious foe dedicated to its destruction and groups are publicly assembling in Baltimore to defame Israel and support its enemies, more is needed than understated indoor gatherings in the safe and familiar confines of Park Heights and Owings Mills. Such times demand a massive public demonstration that reaches beyond Jewish ZIP codes, challenges the slanderers and defamers, educates the apathetic and uninformed and provides an emotional outlet for a Jewish community bursting with love for Israel and eager for a means to express it.
On July 30, the public rally so overdue here in Baltimore was held at Penn Station, and what an incredible event it was. That same day, anti-Israel groups planned a demonstration at Penn Station and a march to a North Avenue bookstore hosting a diatribe by notorious anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein. Rather than allowing Israel and the IDF to be defamed without challenge, a thousand Baltimoreans thronged the plaza in front of the train station to declare their unwavering commitment to the government, people and armed forces of Israel and their opposition to the lies and distortions spread by the anti-Israel demonstrators.
Besides the unprecedented size of the pro-Israel rally, the rally was noteworthy for its amazing electric atmosphere. Contrary to the popular view that support for Israel has declined among younger Jews, students and young adults were at the vanguard of the rally, injecting it with tremendous energy and passion. Led by the youth, the crowd stood in front of Penn Station waving flags, chanting slogans and singing songs, marched down Charles Street to rally at the corner of North Avenue and then marched back to Penn Station for a final demonstration of singing and flag waving.
The fact that so many Baltimore Jews confidently and enthusiastically assembled in the heart of Baltimore City to loudly express their pride in the State of Israel reflects a Zionist commitment in Baltimore that cuts across demographic and denominational lines. However, the rally also represents a massive failure of communal leadership that has been tolerated for far too long, since The Associated and the Baltimore Jewish Council lacked the vision to organize a public, pro-Israel rally such as the one held at Penn Station.
The pro-Israel rally leaves no question that Baltimoreans young and old have the self-confidence and self-pride to loudly, publicly and unashamedly proclaim their love for Israel and the IDF and to challenge anyone who believes otherwise. When will our leaders exhibit these same qualities?
Host of Shalom USA Radio
Editor’s Note: The writer was an organizer of the July 30 pro-Israel counter-demonstration at Penn Station.