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Old York Road Kehillah Gathers Community in Show of Solidarity

January 22, 2009
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A capacity crowd of some 900 Israel supporters demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Israel during a Jan. 10 event sponsored by Federation's Kehillah of Old York Road. Photo by Zach Kassutto
A standing-room-only gathering of 900 or so friends of Israel participated in a Jan. 10 Solidarity Service sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Kehillah of Old York Road. They filled the sanctuary of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park to show support for Israel's right to defend herself in the current conflict against Hamas terrorist attacks in Gaza.

Speakers included Marina Furman, former Soviet dissident and regional director for the Jewish National Fund's Eastern Pennsylvania Region; Daniel Kutner, Consul General of Israel for the Mid-Atlantic Region; and rabbis and community leaders.

"It was this community who rescued 1 million Jews from the Soviet Union," announced Furman, who related the story of a fellow émigré from Russia who made aliyah to Israel and recently gave permission for her only child to serve in the Israeli Defense Force on the front lines in Gaza.

When asked why, she replied, "How can I deprive my son the opportunity to be a hero?"

Kutner gave a brief history of the conflict in Gaza, explaining why Israel could no longer suffer the incessant attacks on its cities, including Netivot, a community that enjoys a special relationship with Philadelphia through its 10-year involvement in Partnership 2000 -- a program that links communities throughout the Diaspora with regions in Israel.

It also brings representatives from Jewish federations together with professionals and entrepreneurs in Israel to work together to develop economies, communities and relationships.

Steve Carpey, co-chair of the Event Committee along with Susan Kassutto, urged the group to take action.

"Think of Israel positively. Visit Israel. Buy from Israel. Invest in Israel. Write to the media and your elected representatives. It is the sacred task of our generation," he said.

Among the crowd were local members of the Friends of Israel, a consortium of some 40 Philadelphia-area churches who support Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas-led terrorism.

"There is no moral equivalency between Hamas terrorists who target Israeli civilians while vowing to destroy Israel, and Israel's legitimate defense of its state and its people," declared William Sutter, executive director of Friends of Israel, in a Jan. 5 statement. "As committed Christians and friends of Israel, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

The event included prayers for Israel and its soldiers; Israeli songs with roots in the 1967 Six-Day War; and a recounting by students of times throughout Jewish history in which the Jews have persevered and overcome obstacles.

Attendees seemed to come away with a renewed sense of determination and understanding of the power inherent in grassroots organizations, such as the 11-year-old Kehillah of Old York Road.

"Listening to the news and the negative reporting in other areas of the world, we felt a need to take action locally," explained Susan Kassutto.

"In less than a week," she continued, "we worked in partnership with the Federation to put together a solidarity gathering that enabled us to draw strength from each other and move forward.

"This is the beauty of the Kehillah -- and it is working."

For information about upcoming Kehillah of Old York Road activities, call Lynne Balaban at 215-884-3944.

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