Nearly 300 demonstrators, holding handmade signs and with Israeli flags flying in the breeze or draped over their shoulders, fanned out across both sides of Stevenson Road near Chizuk Amuno Congregation on May 13.
They had come to show their support for the Jewish state, as Hamas and Israel continued to exchange rocket attacks and airstrikes.
The rally was organized by the Baltimore Zionist District, which had only begun planning for the demonstration the day before.
“It was very last minute,” said Caren Leven, executive director of BZD, speaking by phone. “It was very challenging. It took many hours, a lot of planning with our staff and with the StandWithUs representative here in Baltimore [Nathan Altshuler, StandWithUs’ senior mid-Atlantic high school coordinator].”
Leven found the rally heartwarming, she said, and “exactly what we needed to do with the community to come together for Israel.”
Attendees at the rally carried signs with messages about supporting Israel, with some signs specifically thanking the U.S. for funding the Iron Dome system.
Liza Davis, a resident of Baltimore County and member of Ner Tamid Greenspring Valley Congregation, was one of the attendees. She expressed concern for her family members in Israel.
“They’re sleeping in bomb shelters,” Davis said. “I have elderly grandparents that can’t run to bomb shelters, so they’re just sitting and hoping, praying to God they don’t get hit. And I just take this very personally because my grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.”
Davis also was dismayed that a number of her friends had posted anti-Israel messages on social media.
“I’ve actually made a couple people, four people at this point, take posts down,” she said.
Mordechai Graham, an Israel Defense Forces veteran and Baltimore resident, said that some probably don’t think the rally means very much, but these kinds of shows of support mattered to him when he was in the IDF.
“When I was at war, when you see people doing it, it does make you feel better,” he said.
A significant portion of America’s Jewish population, Graham believed, are opposed to Israel in the conflict.
“They’re just not educating themselves,” Graham said. “A lot of them are coming out with an anti-Israel stance out of ignorance, right? Not out of hate, but there still is a large anti-Israel, ignorance stance among the American Jewish community that I see.”
At the rally, Ezri Klein, a Pikesville resident and member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, said that it’s important to show support for Israel.
“I have family members serving in the IDF,” he said. “It’s important that our brothers and sisters over there know that people in America do support them and that we care for them and we’re worried about their safety there.”
Klein said loss of civilian life on both sides of the conflict is tragic, and that each side should take steps to prevent that from happening.
“Unfortunately, it happens in a war, but civilians on both sides, innocent civilians, have no business being injured,” he said. “We have to, both sides have to, try to mitigate collateral damage.”
Klein said he hopes the violence ends as soon as possible.
“I hope it can end in a way that both sides can coexist,” he said. “I think the possibility is there. You just have to find common ground and give and take from both sides.”
Speaking via phone before the rally, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation had a more pessimistic view of the situation. He said the current violence was nothing inherently new and that it would likely end as it has in the past.
“We’ve seen this movie before, and we know the ending,” Wohlberg said. “The ending is the fighting will stop, Israel will be blamed and everyone goes on their merry way, with thousands of lives affected, with kids growing up knowing what it’s like living in bomb shelters … and it accomplished nothing.”