campers, Morgan Arny, Ilan Leonard and Sima
Goldstein, who were among six children leading the
audience in responsive inspirational Hebrew verses.
(Photo By JHV: Michael C. Duke)
More than 300 children and their families, teachers and adults from across the community gathered in support of Israel this past Monday afternoon, July 31, at the Jewish Community Center’s main campus on South Braeswood. Held inside the Center’s Kaplan Theatre, “Houston for Israel Family Rally” was a program designed specifically for children and parents, emphasizing strongly the importance of Torah, prayer and charity. The Consul General of Israel to the Southwest, Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, Camp Gan Israel of Houston and JCC Summer Day Camps sponsored the event; Chabad Outreach of Houston shaliach and Camp Gan Israel director, Rabbi Dovid Goldstein, emceed.
“We are gathered here today to offer peaceful ammunition in support of Israel and Jews everywhere through our prayers, charity and Torah study,” announced Rabbi Goldstein to the standing-room-only crowd of Israeli flag-wavers, day campers and attentive children. “And it is here that we pray especially for a peaceful resolution, and mourn the unnecessary loss of life, on both sides of the conflict.”
Rabbi Goldstein explained that Monday’s rally was taking place amid the Nine Days of Mourning (Tishat HaYamim), the prelude for the commemoration of the Holy Temple’s destruction. By coming together as a community in support of Israel on this occasion, Houston’s Jewish community would be helping to “transform these days of mourning into days of rejoicing,” he remarked.
Speaking directly to the audience’s young, impressionable members, Rabbi Goldstein called attention to the vital role children have played throughout Jewish history. He drew analogy between Israel’s current struggle for survival and that from the Purim story, where Mordechai gathered children together to study Torah, which then helped engender the miraculous salvation of the Jewish nation. “Being children, you are very special. You have the power to help the Jewish nation. . . . And today, we hope to recreate this salvation of the Jewish people, in Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere, through our collective prayer, charity and Torah study,” he stated.
And so it was that six children from the audience were called up on stage throughout the program to assist in the leading of prayer, learning and tzedakah.
Israel’s Deputy Consul General Belaynesh Zevedia expressed tremendous gratitude for the community’s show of support during such troubled times. She spoke about the terrible acts of war that the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas have committed against Israel this past month, targeting both its soldiers and civilians. Additionally, she gave personal accounts on how her young niece has had to endure three weeks of living in a bomb shelter, and that her two nephews are currently fighting in Lebanon with the IDF. Central to these remarks, the deputy consul general spoke about what it means to love Israel as a united Jewish people.
“Each and every one of you is connected to the people of Israel. Every one of you is affected by what’s been going on in our homeland. We are here today to show the world that we care, to show the people of Houston that we believe in Israel’s right to defend itself. . . .
“Today, we must stand together in solidarity, as a united Jewish community,” she continued. “Today, we must show the world that our home will not be taken from us again. Today, Israel fights for peace, morality and life. Today, we must fight to survive.”
The deputy consul punctuated her remarks with: “Am Yisrael Chai – the people of Israel live!” which the Federation’s CEO, Lee Wunsch, and Chabad of Texas director, Rabbi Shimon Lazaroff, subsequently took to the stage with elated song.
The audience also was treated to a special presentation, thanks to a guest appearance by Rabbi Chaim Kaplan, director of Chabad Lubavitch in the holy city of Safed. Rabbi Kaplan spoke to the audience via video conference call, which was projected on the stage’s 30-foot screen. He recently recovered from shrapnel wounds caused by a Hezbollah attack, in which both his house and car were damaged by Katyusha rockets. Rabbi Kaplan provided an update on the situation in the north, was optimistic about the return of peace to the region and thanked Houston’s Jewish community for its continual support of Israel.
Gan Israel, waits for the Houston for Israel Family
Rally to begin. (Photo By JHV: Michael C. Duke)
The Houston for Israel rally was an empowering and unique endeavor, remarked one of the event’s principal organizers, Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, director of Chabad Uptown. “There have been many great and wonderful programs staged across the United States in support of Israel this past month. Yet, they all have been for a mature audience alone. We thought it important to have one that children could attend and participate in, as it is important to educate them on what is happening in Israel right now, and so they will help ensure Israel’s survival into the future.”
Rabbi Chaim said that Monday’s program was the continuation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s teachings to bring peace and light to the world, and that it drew inspiration from the message of Psalm 8:3 – “From mouths of children and nursing babies [God] fashioned an invincible might . . . to end foe and avenger.”
The program concluded with children and adults depositing coins in tzedakah boxes – monies that will go for humanitarian aid to Israel. Packages of candles also were distributed, encouraging the audience to recite special prayers this Shabbat for the safety and security of Israel.