US Jewish leaders taste Sderot trauma

Kassam hits home only meters from where Conference of Presidents meet with local leaders.

hoenlein 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
hoenlein 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
American Jewish leaders on a solidarity visit to Sderot Sunday witnessed up close the eight-year-old rocket barrage of the town when a Kassam hit a few dozen meters from where they held meetings with local political and military leaders. The rocket hit caused a resounding boom through the fortified police building into which the leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had rushed following the sounding of a "Color Red" siren. "That was a close one!" shouted one of the police commanders to the policemen and soldiers who had rushed into the building. Barking orders, he assembled groups of police and sent them to check for damage or wounded. A few minutes letter, the Jewish leaders witnessed the evacuation of a wounded man from the nearby home that had sustained a direct hit. The scene was chaotic, with residents crying and scuffling and police working to restore order. "We all live with a sense of suppressed rage," said Kenneth Bialkin, a New York lawyer and former chairman of the conference, shortly after the rocket hit. "You can't look at this and not wonder how the world can stand by and watch as Jews are attacked for being Jews, by people who want to destroy them," he said. "How do people not understand there is no justification for the course Hamas is taking?" he wondered. "There's no issue here except how quickly we can destroy them." The Conference of Presidents delegation decided over the weekend to make the solidarity trip, arriving by Sunday afternoon. "It is important to show the people of Israel we're with them, and with the IDF," said Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference's executive vice chairman. "We're also here to witness this. Our own front line is the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people," he added. "Israel has to do what is best to stop [the attacks]," said the conference's incoming chairman, Chicago attorney Alan Solow. "It's our job to get the story about what's happening here out to the world." Solow said the close brush with a Hamas rocket wasn't his first experience of terrorism. "I was on Rehov Ben-Yehuda Street [in central Jerusalem] when Sbarro was blown up in August 2001 [on nearby King George Street]. It's a frightening experience, but I have stronger feelings for the people of Israel who live with this. I'm only here for a short visit." "I've been in Sderot many times, but this is the first time I've seen a rocket attack firsthand," said Ron Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress. "I've never experienced this. I can understand the fear, emotion, anxiety when something like this happens to you. If I was living here with my children, I would be extraordinarily nervous." The Jewish leaders, including former conference chairman James Tisch, said the vast majority of the American Jewish community supported Israel's operations against Hamas. "Even among the dovish groups there is widespread understanding for Israel's action," said Hoenlein. Asked about the influence of far-left groups such as J Street and the Israel Policy Forum who have called on Israel to stop its operations, he dismissed them as "very marginal and not representative" of American Jewish opinion, noting that the dovish president of the Union for Reform Judaism himself castigated J Street's call for an end to the operation.