Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton was among several local leaders who used the city’s celebration of Israeli Independence Day on May 4 to emphasize the importance of community and togetherness.
In front of a couple dozen people in the council chambers, adorned with American and Israeli flags, Newton cited the political unease that has plagued the United States and the world, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She said that “we must stand shoulder to shoulder and be intentional in their support and defense of all people everywhere who strive for the right to peace.” emphasizing the importance of the United States’ relationship with Israel.
“America has long been a beacon of hope, the great experiment in democracy,” Newton said. “Now more than ever, however, we in America are at a precipice and our democracy is in peril. We must do the hard work that Israel has done to build bridges instead of walls, to have coffee instead of conflict.”
Newton addressed the chambers and voiced her support for the state of Israel and their independence, issuing a proclamation alongside Rockville councilmember Beryl Feinberg acknowledging the significance of the day.
“Congratulations to the State of Israel,” Newton said. “May your victory in the struggle for peace and autonomy be a reminder to each of us that the desire for freedom is universal. It is without regard to color, creed, race, or religion.”
Attendees included former Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman, former Baltimore City District Court Judge Katie O’Malley, former Rockville Mayor Susan Hoffmann and current Gaithersburg Mayor Judd Ashman.
Montgomery County Councilmember Sid Katz spoke about his family’s experience as Jews in the county. Katz said he never experienced antisemitism growing up, despite his being the only Jewish family in Gaithersburg at that time. He credited this to the fact that the community itself made certain that his family was comfortable.
Turning to antisemitism and other forms of hatred in the United States today, he said, “I am someone who sincerely believes that a community is a family. When one hurts, all of us hurt. … but the way that we can combat it is for the family and the community to come together, shoulder to shoulder, and say, ‘We’re not going to have this.’”
The celebration included a documentary about the day that Israel signed their declaration of independence. The room sang along to Hatikvah – the Israel national anthem – and Rabbi Shlomo Beitsh of Chabad Israeli Center of Rockville delivered a prayer for Israel and Ukraine.
“There is something special about the state of Israel,” said former Rockville Mayor Steven VanGrack. “And it’s, in my opinion, the closest ally the United States has ever had. Every president of the United States has been a strong supporter. So it’s a great feeling.”