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Boro Israel supporters rally despite rainstorm

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When official word came down shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday that an Israeli solidarity rally had been postponed because of bad weather, the sidewalk was empty except for a handful of people and a steady stream of raindrops.

Though the storm continued its vigil for the next hour, the crowd standing before the Kew Gardens Hills library doubled and tripled within a matter of minutes, and a rally that had officially succumbed to the elements was informally revived by the tenacity of 200 Israeli supporters.

Sunday’s rally was only one of many Israeli solidarity events organized across the borough Sunday to coincide with Shivah Asar B’Tamuz, a Jewish day of fasting commemorating the Roman breach of Jerusalem’s outer wall 2,000 years ago — an event which ultimately led to the Jews’ exile from Israel.

The historical remembrance provided a solemn awareness of how much is at stake in the lasting effort to preserve a Jewish state. The Israeli government is currently struggling with Palestinians to end months of violence before entering into peace negotiations, forcing Israel to confront its opponents in what rally leaders see as an ongoing cycle in its struggle for survival.

After the official event was postponed, organizers Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld and Judah Mansbach led an impromptu rally and prayer session from the shelter of a 1987 Crown Victoria. The car, part of the fleet used by the Jewish ambulance corps Hatzolah, was equipped with a public address system that piped their voices from the car roof through the sheets of rain.

The rest of the supporters had to hold their prayer books close to their bodies beneath the more primitive shelter of umbrellas, surrounding the car parked along Vleigh Place for a prayer session unlike most had ever seen before.

Schonfeld decried the American government for advocating restraint in Israel’s response to Palestinian violence, a stance which he said applies a double-standard to Israel and the United States. To illustrate his point, the rabbi told his audience to imagine a war in which Canada or Mexico fired missiles into the United States — actions that he said would incite immediate retaliation by the Americans.

“Only with regard to Israel are we told, ‘Be patient, show restraint,’” Schonfeld said. “We know exactly what America would do. Why should Israel do any less?”

Schonfeld also urged American Jews to visit Israel as a means of showing support at a time when Israelis are suffering greatly under the threat of violence, a call that was echoed by many in attendance.

“The worst thing that people can do in the face of terror is capitulate,” said Israel Cohen of Kew Gardens Hills. “These are people that have to be shown that their attacks are not going to succeed in changing the lifestyles and the determination of a free people.”

For Cohen, who attended the rally with his two young sons, the call to visit the Jewish state was one he had already heeded: he brought his family to Israel for the celebration of Passover in April.

Although Kew Gardens resident Jan Fenster was planning to leave for Israel on Tuesday, she took a break from packing to attend the rally and proudly advertise her stance with a bright blue tee-shirt that read, “Israel Is Our Eternal Homeland.”

“It’s about time we American Jews showed a little more concretely that we absolutely support our brothers and sisters in Israel,” she said.

The rally was sponsored by the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills congregation — where Schonfeld serves as rabbi — City Councilman Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills), the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Vaad Harabonim of Queens.

Organizers said they imagine hundreds more would have flocked to the rally had the weather been more cooperative. The rally has been rescheduled for Sunday, July 29, indoors at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills on 75th Road and 150th Street, where rain will pose no threat.

As Povman’s chief of staff, Jeff Gottlieb, put it following their soggy first effort, “we felt we have good Jewish weather here, but I’m afraid it deserted us for the moment.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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