To protest the American Jewish organizational leadership’s “unequivocal support for Israel” in its war with Hamas in Gaza, a group of 40 Jews appearing to be in their 20s held a Tisha B’Av demonstration in front of the Washington office of Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday.
Calling themselves #ifnotnow – a reference to a saying of the Jewish sage Hillel – the group, dressed in black, held signs reading “I am pro-Israel and against the killing of civilians,” “The Jewish Federations of North America does not speak for all of us” and “Not in my name.”
The group began its demonstration at Farragut Square and marched to the JFNA office a block away.
Speakers included Jesse Rabinowitz, who wore a tallit as he explained why the group had chosen Tisha B’Av – a day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem and other calamities in Jewish history – for its demonstration against what he called Israel’s siege of Gaza.
Tisha B’Av is an “ancient day of mourning and today is the day to be sad [because the] sadness has reached new depths” due to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
#IfNotNow is calling “for a robust debate – allowing voices of dissent in the Jewish community,” said Sharon Goldtzvik, one of the demonstration’s organizers. “Our ultimate goal is to see JFNA and others represent views of those in the community who oppose the war, oppose the siege and call for an end to the occupation.”
Goldtzvik, who has lived in Israel and is married to an Israeli who “refused to serve in the IDF on grounds of conscience,” said that “we want the JFNA to release a public statement condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians, bombing of U.N. schools and the use of live ammunition of protesters in the West Bank.”
The group wrote a letter to William Daroff, JFNA’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington office, stating its main objectives.
Washington resident Robert Wohl was one of five protestors who tried to deliver the letter to Daroff.
“We walked into the building and security stopped us and told us we couldn’t go inside,” he said. “We called the JFNA and said we wanted to give them a letter and that we wanted to talk.”
Through a spokesperson, the JFNA had no comment.
#IfNotNow came to light nationally in the last month, its events spread through social media and word of mouth. The movement has held events in New York, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, according to organizers.
Hannah Halpern, a graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, said she heard about the event through a friend.
“Israel is a big part of my life – I went on the JDS senior trip to Israel – but growing up in Jewish community, you only hear one side,” Halpern said.
“I care about the state of Israel and want it to exist but I feel confused,” stating her confusion is due to differences in opinions with friends and family supporting Israel’s actions.
Halpern went on to say that she learned about the necessity of viewing all sides of a conflict from her Jewish youth movement, Habonim Dror. “For me, saying all the names [of Palestinians killed] is helping me think about both sides of the conflict.”
But, she conceded, not talking about Hamas’ actions, “is [also] a problem.” n