1,200 attend rally for Israel

SARASOTA — Bradenton’s Judy Brooks, a member of Church on the Ranch in East Manatee, drove to Sarasota to show her support for Israel, which is engaging Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.

Brooks was stunned to find that 1,200 others had the same idea and packed Temple Beth Sholom on Tuesday night for the “Rally for Israel’s Right to Self-Defense.”

“Our pastor, Jeff Weaver, said we should all go to support Israel,” Brooks said. “Politically, I don’t know what could be done to defuse what is happening there right now. That’s out of my element. But a spiritual solution? That’s a different matter. I think that could work and it would start with Psalm 122 and plenty of prayer.”

The rally drew many who, like Brooks, were not Jewish but who care about Israel’s future, organizers said.

Many of the speeches at the rally, of which there were about a dozen, were deeply personal.

Judy Weinstein, president of the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation, told of a recent trip to Israel during the rocket attacks from Hamas and how she learned about a teenage girl so terrorized she slept with her parents.

She urged the crowd not to leave the rally and do nothing.

“Write a letter to an Israeli, expressing your support,” Weinstein said. “Send funds to Israel. There are many ways to use your voice. Use it.”

Many speakers, like Rabbi Michelle Goldsmith, Associate Rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom, tried to express how Israel was left with little choice but to invade Gaza.

“Golda Meir (former Israeli prime minister) often said that she hoped that Palestinian parents loved their children more than they hated Israel,” Goldsmith said, referring to hopeful outrage on the part of the Palestinian citizens with the Hamas leaders. “We were waiting for that to happen. It didn’t happen.”

Perhaps the highlight of the evening were two short speeches by Jewish teenagers.

Rick Rosenbluth, 18, a senior at Southeast High School in Bradenton, had visited Israel in June along with 31 other teens from the Sarasota-Manatee and Naples area.

Said Rosenbluth, “The first thing we witnessed as we approached the Kotel was the young soldiers promising themselves into the Israeli Defense Force. These soldiers were no older than 19, and all I could think of was that this time next year I would be their age and all I would be promising is that I would call my parents from school. How fortunate am I that that is all I will be promising.”

Rosenbluth, who hopes to major in Middle Eastern or Jewish Studies in college, fell in love with Israel when he visited.

“I felt like I was home,” he said.

He wants to fight for Israel but says he won’t because he would miss his family and they would miss him.

“My mother won’t let me talk about it,” he said.

Yet, Rosenbluth’s parents, Michael and Fran, of Greenbrook Plantation, were at the rally as was his grandfather, Steven Becker.

Rosenbluth’s view is that Israel’s bombing of buildings in Gaza that could have caused civilian casualties was regrettable, but entirely necessary to protect Israeli lives.

“The loss of civilians should be mourned on either side,” Rosenbluth said.

Stephanie Mandelblum, 17, of Riverview High School in Sarasota, wants to start Teens for Peace in the Middle East. She believes that kids her age, Israelis and Palestinians, could be an answer to the deadlock.

“I personally think the worst crime in all of this is people standing by, too scared to say what they feel,” Stephanie said.

“If there was a group of people, a large group of people, willing to speak up it could make a difference,” she said.

“And that group could be kids my age. Our view as youth is: ‘Why can’t you all be grown up? Look what you have given us. And we have to live with this now?’”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.