At Hanukkah Rally in NYC, prayers, candles, and calls for ceasefire

At Hanukkah Rally in NYC, prayers, candles, and calls for ceasefire  002
Calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, demonstrators at a Jews for Racial and Economic Justice rally fill Columbus Circle in Manhattan on the first night of Hanukkah, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photos: NY Time)
NEW YORK — More than 700 people gathered in Columbus Circle in Manhattan on Thursday evening, the first night of Hanukkah, to light candles for the holiday and to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.اضافة اعلان

Bundled in winter coats and holding menorahs, the demonstrators came together more in commemoration than in celebration, expressing grief for the Israelis and Palestinians who had been killed since October 8. They sang prayers as they stood around a large menorah bearing the word “ceasefire” in colorful lighted letters.

“This just feels like a very powerful opportunity for us to continue to be very, very loud and clear that we see no military solution to this conflict,” said Audrey Sasson, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, one of the event’s organizers.

The event illustrated the complicated emotions that surround this year’s Hanukkah celebrations for some Jewish New Yorkers. Both antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen, placing the city on edge. At the same time, many left-leaning Jews have said they feel called to protest the deaths of civilians in Gaza as well as in Israel and to separate their Jewish identity from the actions of the Israeli government.

“As a Jewish person, my identity is being used to kill innocent people,” said Ben Sullivan, 28. “It makes me upset, but it gives me a lot of hope to see so many other Jewish people who feel the same way.”

Sophie Ellman-Golan, communications director for Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, said Thursday night’s rally was designed to be an inclusive event for people of all backgrounds to come together in solidarity with Gaza. The event’s other sponsors included anti-Zionist groups Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow.

Between prayers, several speakers addressed the crowd, including rabbis with the organization Rabbis for Ceasefire, actor Wallace Shawn, and Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist.

“What I will tell you is that you are a people of courage,” Sarsour said. “We resist those who want to divide our communities.”

Raina Clark-Gaun, 43, and her 9-year-old son, who are not Jewish, came to light a candle and to honor Hisham Awartani, one of the three Palestinian American college students who were shot in Burlington, Vermont, last month. Clark-Gaun said Awartani, who was paralyzed in the attack, is the cousin of a friend of hers.

“I think it is beautiful that these Jewish organizations are so compelled and impassioned to come out and to advocate for peace,” Clark-Gaun said. “They’re constantly out there on the front lines elevating the need for a cease-fire when our government is refusing leadership on it.”

Suzan Moss, 72, also voiced frustration with the US government’s provision of military funding to Israel. She has relatives in Israel, she said but has always identified as a secular Jew.

“It is being done in my name, with my taxpayer dollars,” she said.

As the rally dispersed and people headed for the warmth of subway stations or the nearby mall, they were handed posters that read “Ceasefire Now” and encouraged to display the message in their windows, as they would a menorah during Hanukkah.

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