Community support   

In L.A., a Sunday of speakers, signs and solidarity for Israel

Politicians, local leaders and the mother of an Israeli man being held captive by Hamas address the thousands of people who turned out in a march through the city’s heavily Jewish neighborhoods

Thousands of Jews and allies marched in solidarity with Israel through the Pico-Robertson/Beverlywood area of Los Angeles on Sunday as speakers called for peace, condemnation of the Hamas terror group and the release of nearly 200 people being held hostage by the organization in the Gaza Strip.

Organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the event ran along Pico Boulevard, with a group marching from Young Israel of Century City to the museum, a half-mile away. Los Angeles Police Department vehicles and officers lined the route for security, and there were no visible security incidents during the gathering.

Most of the assembled lined the street with signs proclaiming “We stand with Israel,” calling to “End Hamas” and featuring the appeal that Hamas should “stop using Moslems [sic] as human shields.” American and Israeli flags of every size were present, poking out of baseball caps and hairstyles, being held aloft by attendees or attached to small sticks that children waved as they walked.

“Despite the [90-degree]  heat, I found the whole experience to be so powerful,” said one local mother, who attended with her 12-year-old son and asked not to have her name published. “Over the past week there have been a number of events held by individual organizations, or group events that largely fell along denominational lines,” she said, “but today seemed to bring together Jews of varying backgrounds from across the community, and it felt like there was a power in that.” 

At noon, several hundred attendees made their way into the museum’s courtyard for an hour-long program, featuring city officials, faith leaders and other Jewish community figures expressing support for Israel in the aftermath of the murderous Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. An indoor overflow space in the museum’s atrium provided extra seating and screens and speakers in a shaded space.

“At the worst moment in our people’s history since the Holocaust, it was uplifting to see the Jewish community be so united and joined with so many allies,” Iranian American Jewish attorney and former L.A. city commissioner Sam Yebri, who attended the rally, told eJP. “Highlights included seeing young children marching arm in arm with their elderly grandparents, young secular Jewish boys putting on tefillin and singing Jewish songs, and emotionally thanking allies from across Los Angeles — including Hindu, Muslim and Catholic community leaders,” he said.

The program began with a call from Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was seriously wounded and kidnapped by Hamas, in which she revealed new information from the police that the 23-year-old’s phone signal was picked up inside of Gaza early Saturday morning. In a steady but weary voice, she told the crowd that “the only thing that keeps us going every day is we’re doing everything to try and find him and bring him home and get him the help he needs because he had a critical wound, if he is still alive, he needs immediate medical care.” She addressed the crowd, thanking “every single person who reached out to us because we feel your love and we feel your prayers. And we’re so grateful that you’re standing behind us.”

Posters of the kidnapped and missing Israelis were everywhere along the parade route, on trees, on telephone poles and at bus stops; some people affixed the posters to sticks to carry on the march’s route, and others taped them on their backs or somewhere on their person.

Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, Israel Bachar, who began his post in September, noted the museum setting and reiterated that the death toll was the largest number of Jews killed in a single day since the Holocaust. “In 1939, we couldn’t fight back,” the consul general said. “But in 2023, we can and we will…we will be unleashing the full capability of the IDF. We will hunt down every terrorist. Hamas will be destroyed.”

California’s lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis, took the podium to share her “unequivocal support” of the State of Israel. Her father’s sister, who “was like a mother to me,” she added, served as a Greek Orthodox nun in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre for 30 years; Kounalakis said that her honeymoon was also in Israel. She urged those in attendance to honor the memories of the fallen and to hold Hamas accountable.

“There are children here today, children who we marched along with,” Kounalakis said. “And I’m sorry that our children of our community are hearing these words and seeing this day that we all hoped would never come. And yet we are here and we must speak out.”

Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) told the crowd that “the path to freedom in the region must eventually include peace.”

She closed her remarks with the Jewish prayer for redeeming captives: “Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam, matir asurim.” Blessed are you God, ruler of the universe, who sets captives free.”

In addition to Kounalakis and Kamlager-Dove, other leaders present included: State Sens. Henry Stern, Jesse Gabriel, Josh Newman and Susan Rubio, and State Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio; president of the board of AIPAC Michael Tuchin; Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Museum of Tolerance; influencer Montana Tucker; and sports figures such as  boxer Floyd Mayweather and former NBA star Glen “Big Baby” Davis. 

Interfaith leaders also offered remarks about solidarity and justice: Greg Laurie, senior pastor of the Harvest Christian fellowship spoke Hebrew, “hinei ma tov u’ma na’im shevet achim gam yachad” — how good it is for siblings to be together. Omar Farah, executive director of Muslim Coalition of America, said he represents millions of Muslims across this country whose voices might be drowned out by radicals and extremists. “On behalf of all Muslims, nationally,” Farah said, “we consider you our American Jewish brothers and sisters. We are here for you in times of darkness. We’re also here with you in times of happiness to come.”

Closing out the event, Rabbi Noah Farkas, president and CEO of the federation, said that “today Israel needs us more than ever,” and announced that the federation had raised millions of dollars that are going directly to Israel, and urged the assembled to reject the “both sides” narrative that is present in the media. A federation spokesperson said the organization had raised “nearly $12 million from almost 4,000 donors.”

“There are forces that are celebrating the murder of women and children, that are celebrating massacres across the United States,” Farkas said. “I know that Hamas is not Palestine. Palestine is not Hamas. [But] there is no moral equivocation in this moment. There is no two sides of this argument. One side of us stands for what is right, what is good. It stands for justice and the law of democracy. There is only one party that seeks to limit civilian casualties and there is only one terrorist group that aims to further civilian casualties. We have to understand and make the world understand the difference.”