Times Square backs Israel
Two police told us the crowd numbered “…Between four and five thousand.” Another pair approached, and one of those officers hiked a skeptical eyebrow and guessed, “What, maybe 8,000? Dunno, hard to guess.” Another chimed in “Lotta people.”
The supportive demonstration at 41st St. and Seventh Avenue was one avenue block from the rabbity two or three dozen desultory pro-Hamas accretion in front of the troubled and hyperpartisan New York Times. There’s an irony there if you look beneath the wrinkle. Weren’t nobody cheerily singing and energetically rousing the crowd amongst the pro-Hamas, pro-terror, no American flag -gruntled and disgruntled minions.
Catercorner across from the pro-Israel assemblage, 40th and Seventh, on the other hand, was a brand-new Maoz, an Israeli-owned vegetarian emporium we have eaten at and sampled all over the city -- salads, hummus, pita, and the like, making an honest living with healthy and reasonable fare.
Here was an anomaly: The plump population data of the Muslim moiety is, at some 370 million in the Middle East alone, quantum leaps ahead of both the Jews in the world entire, or the small population of Jews peopling Israel, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 something million. Yet the representatives of tiny Israel outweighed the grumps huddled on 8th Avenue by endless multiples.
The flags in profusion at the Times Square demo were huge, unashamed Stars & Stripes, and flowing, shoulder-height Stars of David, draping the shoulders of the bronzed, occasionally tatted, yarmulka’ed or bare-headed handsome men, and waving along the sun-kissed arms and hands of stunning Israeli and American girls and women. There were IDF T-shirts and camo, a profusion of tastefully tatted arms and collar bones, and the occasional curious passerby trying to make it to the subway around the corner, W. 42nd and Broadway.
We had all by then heard the sad, wrenching news of the recent, enormous loss of life from the Protective Edge skirmishes: 13 young Israeli lives had been snuffed out, making a total of 20 young men gone. In a nation as tight-knit and tiny as Israel, 20 men lost is an extravagantly heavy burden. As one placard announced: “We came to support, not argue.”
The police guarding the IDF and Israel support crowd stood foursquare, not watching with the tension that often marks our constabulary when the crowds are of a different provenance. How many police were there for the approximate 8,000 waving, singing, chanting, patriotic masses? “Hard to say,” said one redheaded officer. “There’s a whole load of us, that’s sure,” said his partner. I counted several dozen in the three blocks.
Up East a block, the pro-Israel talk and mutual sharing were in Hebrew, songs were classics we remember from grade school or yeshiva. Then Hatikvah. Or they were uptempo patriotic Israeli hits. Vibrant crowd, loud street reverb at the loudspeakers. Girls at the mic. Guys at the podium. Healthy young, knowledgeable, proud Jews. Where else in history…?
You knew you were among Israelis because the men looked steadily at one, spoke teasingly, flirted. It’s a different mindset and kishka involvement from the largely neutralized local testosterone batch. Women spoke easily with one another in Hebrew, or French, or accented English. And again, those girls and women were knock-it-out-of-the-park gorgeous -- Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Israeli-Israelis. Along with the cadres of long-time supportive American women and men. Not to be ignored, a roving band of Lubavitcher, circulating opportunistically but good-naturedly, offering “Do you want to laig tefillin?” (Wear phyllacteries.) Some of the nonreligious evidently said, What the hay, and donned the leathern straps and box of parchment with prayers inside.
We grew exhilarated with the optimism and ferocity of the support, unpacking our sadness over the war costing us our precious young men. Buses passed slowly, going south along Seventh; the people on the bus lettered "Dahlia", shouted encouragement from the second tier, and gave the raised fist-bump of good-natured success. Two hot guys in leathers, ultra-cool threads, shades and ice-blue helmets on Harleys sang "Am Yisroel Chai!" (Israel lives!”) along with the crowd. Cars tooted as they cruised south; the gathered patriots yelled back in cheer and reinforced unanimity.
It was leagues beyond what we had expected. The usual demo to express support for a beleaguered and misrepresented Israel or objection to some latest outrage against Jews somewhere in the Western world required usually one street with a few barriers set up across from the Israeli consulate on East 42nd and 2nd Avenue.
This was massive.
Helped by the perfect Sunday afternoon in mid-July, there was all this buzz of utter love for being Israeli or Jewish. Signs were not the pre-printed handouts of the Left’s demos -- all the same, same italic shouting fonts. Same rude presumption of insufferable moral superiority. These signs were hand-lettered and heartfelt. The street was a mass of waving U.S. and Israeli colors and values on poles.
One elderly loon paced back and forth promising on a stick that "The End Is Near." We asked him what he was about. “Because [he began ungrammatically] both countries are going to be destroyed.” “Why?” we countered. He was evidently a low-information prophet, since Hamas is not a country. But persisting, we asked why both “nations” were facing the end of days. “Because both have not listened to G-d,” he intoned, "they did not listen to Him," the fervor of the ignored prophet hoisting him millimeters taller than his 5-foot stature. He could not explain how or in what way both had sinned enough to warrant the end.
Another guy, this one black, tromped around grumpily with a sign reading ”Repent! Follow Jesus!” We laughed and confided to him, “You sure have the wrong crowd.” “You will have His judgment,” he replied, dead serious. But he added charitably, “Bless you.”
We were at first apprehensive about the police, as we had schlepped along a wedding present in a colorful open tote that could have been regarded as an explosive problem. In Israel, no question, it would have been searched. But no officer challenged us, and the demo attendees looked more curiously at our grassy green visor than at the large-economy-sized bag carryall we held in our left hand, fat bubble wrap concealing the contents.
Signs all touted variants of Israel wants peace/Hamas wants war, or cited the one- or two-word catchwords infamous for bloody terror against innocents the world over, crimes perpetrated by terror sects, incidents well-known to news hounds: Mumbai, pizzerias, kidnaps, Munich… Benghazi.
When 7 o'clock came, after three hours of boostering and chanting, there were still enthusiastic knots of young flag carriers on every block, who sang and chanted pro-Israel-themed standards. Some danced Israeli dances.
Around the corner, a moment later, not a Hamasite, not a pro-terror advocate, was to be seen anywhere on the block where lurks … the Times.