Gov. Mark Dayton joined 1,400 Jewish community members and Israel supporters Thursday night calling for peace in the Middle East during a solidarity rally in Minnetonka to address the raging conflict.
“So tonight I join with you in expressing my support of the people of Israel in defending themselves against Hamas’ terrorism,” the DFL governor said. “No country should be expected to tolerate this kind of terror being imposed on its borders.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas organized the event, held at Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, after the community expressed a need to support Israel and its armed forces as criticism mounted against the nation.
Thursday’s gathering brought the Jewish community together for contemplation, prayer and song.
A loud siren was played so residents could imagine the sirens heard in Israel that warn civilians to take cover against approaching missiles.
“Oftentimes, Jews feel very closely identified with Israel,” said Steve Hunegs, the council’s executive director. “When Israelis are suffering, it’s as though their family is suffering. Families come together in times of need and crisis, and this is one of those times.”
One segment of the program involved the reading of a long list of fallen Israeli soldiers. It left dozens of attendees in tears, and many were still wiping their eyes as they left the building.
Alan and Paula Wohl, of Minnetonka, described the event as “truly moving.”
Paula Wohl said the gathering provides a sort of healing for the Jewish community and their supporters because it reminds everyone that “we’re not alone.” Her husband said, “You feel like you just have to do something — because there’s so little that you actually can do. Solidarity is important.”
Fighting between Israelis and Hamas militants has killed more than 800 people, most of them Palestinian.
Hundreds of supporters dressed in blue and white like the Israeli flag, while others wrapped themselves in the real thing. Many carried signs and shouted in support of the nation in response to about a dozen protesters across the street.
The group of antiwar and Palestinian supporters held a large banner reading, “Free Palestine! Stop U.S. Aid to Israel.” One member held a megaphone used to chant the same message at those entering the synagogue.
Karen Redleaf, an organizer with the Minnesota Coalition for Palestinian Rights, sent an e-mail blast to friends and other activists when she heard that the governor would be attending the event because, she said, it was “unacceptable.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be,” said Redleaf, who was wearing a “Gaza on My Mind” T-shirt. “Someone has to represent the real victims — and the real victims are Palestinians.”
The program hit especially close to home for Carmella Chazin, who returned from a seminar in Israel just last week. She was in Jerusalem when sirens erupted, notifying residents that rockets may be coming, she said. Living that way, never knowing what will happen, is difficult to cope with, she said.
“It’s a very sad situation,” she said. “People don’t know if they can take a shower without sirens going off and being told to head for shelter.”
Chazin’s daughter, Dorit Fishman, served in the Israeli army to gain dual citizenship and lived in the country for 10 years. Thursday’s program was hopeful, she said.
Dayton finished his comments by reminding guests that the United States could not — and would not — stand by while its greatest ally in the Middle East was being assaulted.
“The old adage still applies,” said Dayton, who received a standing ovation. “Friends in need are our friends indeed. Here tonight, we are friends indeed.”