Nice Rally, Now What?

I fear that 50 years from now our children will be reading books about how Jews were being persecuted and murdered around the world — from Tunisia to France to Belgium to Russia to Israel — and American Jewry was silent and let it happen.

I see so many parallels today with the 1930s and 1940s. We have a popular president who is a friend of the Jewish people, a president fighting a war that we believe in, that when won will ultimately help the Jewish people. But, in the meantime, Jews are being killed and we are told not to rock the boat. Do as we say in the war on terrorism, not as we do. You must not fight back because that will upset our Arab allies.

Adolf Hitler gave speech after speech telling the world he planned to exterminate the Jews, and people said, “Don’t pay any attention, it’s just rhetoric.” Today, Yasser Arafat gives speech after speech declaring his intention to destroy Israel, to wage jihad, jihad, jihad, to lead a million martyrs for the liberation of Jerusalem and we are again told, “It’s just rhetoric.”

We are at a crucial moment in Jewish history. Is the situation exactly the same as it was before? Of course not. Nevertheless, we are being tested as we were half a century ago. Will we be silent?

The rally in Washington was a first step to show that we will not stand by again and watch our brothers and sisters murdered, but it was only a first step. We cannot let up in our defense of the Jewish people and our defense of Israel. And we must not be afraid to speak truth to power, as Elie Wiesel did to President Reagan. We must not be afraid to say, Mr. President, you are a great friend, and we support your war on terrorism, but you must not allow the State Department to lead you astray as it did President Roosevelt.

We must continue to work with the Congress, whose members are again demonstrating that they have no trouble distinguishing between Israelis craving peace and fighting terror and Palestinians craving terror and fighting peace. State and local officials must also be encouraged to speak out, and every lever of power used to send the message that America is on the side of freedom and democracy as exemplified by Israel and not dictatorship and repression as represented by the Arab world.

Israel is in desperate shape. It needs our moral and financial support. Israeli lives have been devastated. Besides the nearly 500 people who have been killed, thousands have been wounded and millions traumatized. We can help. Now is the time to go to Israel. Solidarity missions are nice, but their focus should be changed. Americans should go to visit the victims of terror in hospitals and in their homes and bring them laptop computers, CD players, clothes, whatever will help them recover and regain what passes for a normal life in Israel.

Bodies and lives have been shattered in Israel, and so has the economy. An emergency campaign is underway to raise money to meet urgent needs. Please give generously.

One other way to support the economy is to buy Israeli products. It would be best to do it during your visit to Israel, but you can also do it from your home by going to the Israeli government-sponsored web site

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being frittered away on newspaper ads that last one day and have little or no political impact. For the cost of one full-page spread in the New York Times, four bright young energetic college graduates who desperately want to help the Jewish people could be put to work for an entire year. Creating a corps of these young activists who can train and educate their peers should be a community priority.

Finally, you can contribute to the information campaign. A major effort is now underway to inform Americans about the facts about the conflict in the Middle East. Hardly a week goes by without someone calling me to express their frustration about the situation and ask how they can help, or tell me about their own plan for helping Israel with its public relations. Rather than dozens of people and organizations heading in different directions, a coalition of groups is trying to harness the community’s resources and point them in the same direction to develop targeted television ads, talking points, and other educational materials. We are trying to better educate students in high schools and on college campuses with advocacy training and the dissemination of publications such as Myths and Facts and the enhancement of online resources, such as the Jewish Virtual Library.

In the year 2052, when your children ask, “What did you do to prevent the catastrophe of 2002?” What will be your answer?