21 rabbis and rabbinical students and one layperson were arrested Tuesday at the Isaiah Peace Wall opposite the United Nations after New York City police blocked the group’s attempt to shut down the entrance of the world body. The rabbis were protesting Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s vow to annihilate Israel, Tehran’s support of terrorism, and its incipient nuclear threat to the Mideast and Europe. Two police paddy wagons took the handcuffed 22 to Central Booking, opposite the Tombs.
The 22, backed by dozens of other rabbis and laypersons, had first gathered outside the Iranian UN Mission several blocks from the UN. There, Rabbi Weiss, national chairman of Amcha-Coalition for Jewish Concerns, which organized the action, declared: “There’s a fire burning, and we must raise a voice of moral outrage. We urge that the presence of any Iranian delegation be protested, that pressure be put on countries not to trade with Iran, that state governments divest from companies trading with Iran, and that nations signed on to the Genocide Convention strongly condemn Iranian President Ahmadinejad who’s threatened to wipe Israel off the map. We demand that the United Nations expel Iran, which has threatened to annihilate Israel, a fellow UN member state.
“We call upon the American Jewish community to organize a mass march on Washington, joined by hundreds of thousands, to raise a powerful voice of moral conscience and a simple message: there’s a fire burning, burning from Iran. There cannot be business as usual until Iran is stopped.”
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg of Congregation Sons of Israel stated: “Iran trains terrorists to murder Israelis and insurgents to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Just as these terrorists have kidnapped Israel soldiers, so Iran has taken British soldiers hostage. Iraq has not paid the price; that must change. We turn to the world and say, take action! We say to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, kick Iran out of the United Nations.”
Rabbis Aaron Rubinger and Mark Ankcorn flew up from Orlando, FL to join the protest. Rabbi Rubinger declared: “Not since the Holocaust have Jewish lives been so endangered. We have to step up and tell the world that we won’t allow our people to be incinerated again.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnick, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, stated: “We also pause here to remember the tragedy yesterday at Virginia Tech because we value all lives. Throughout history, hatred often begins with words. Iranian President Ahmadinejad says he’ll wipe Israel off the map. We say, remove the map from him — he should not be allowed to enter any halls of power anywhere. Ahmadinjad should be made to feel like a pariah.”
Singing “Am Yisrael Chai” (“the Jewish people live”) and holding signs aloft, the entire group marched to the Isaiah Peace Wall. As they descended the long, winding steps to the plaza below to attempt to cross over to the UN they were blocked by police officers, barricades and police vans.
Rabbi Weiss announced; “It’s a serious matter to step beyond the line, to violate the law. But we must do so as a moral outcry to the world that it can’t be business as usual. The time has come to expel Iran from the United Nations.”
A police official warned the group that if they continued to occupy the steps they would be arrested. In response, the 22 sat down beneath the biblical prophet Isaiah’s words, carved into the Wall: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more”. Police officers moved up the stairs, arresting and handcuffing the 22, and loading them into the paddy wagons.
With hands handcuffed behind their backs, the 22 could not clap, but they sang and stamped their feet throughout their journey to Central Booking, which is on Park Row, near City Hall. Locked in a large cell together, their handcuffs finally off, the 22 danced, prayed, shared words of Torah and planned future actions to highlight Iran’s threat against Israel, other Mideast nations, Europe and the US.
After a total of 5½ hours of incarceration, the police returned the 22’s possessions and let them go. Each is charged with disorderly conduct, and must appear in Criminal Court on May 15th.
The 22 are (organizational affiliations for identification only) —
Rabbi Mark Ankcorn, Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation
Rabbi Moses Birnbaum, President, Long Island Board of Rabbis, Plainview Jewish Center
Rabbi Steven Burton, Congregation Shaarei Shalom
Rafi Farber, rabbinical student, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Rabbi Jeffrey Fox
Rabbi Avidan Freedman, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg, Congregation Sons of Israel
Ben Greenberg, rabbinical student, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Yehuda Hausman, rabbinical student, Yeshivat Chovevai Torah
Rabbi Jason Herman, Congregation Beth Israel/West Side Jewish Center
Rabbi David Kalb, CLAL
Rabbi Pinchas Klein, Mount Freedom Jewish Center, Morasha
Rabbi Aryeh Leifert, Congregation Rodfei Sholom, San Antonio, Texas
Rabbi Etan Mintz, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Rabbi Ronald Price, Congregation Netivot Sholom, UTJ/Morasha
Glenn Richter, Amcha-Coalition for Jewish Concerns
Rabbi Aaron Rubinger, Congregation Ohev Shalom, Orlando, FL
Ross Shapiro, rabbinical student, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Rabbi Uri Topolsky, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Rabbi Akiva David Weiss, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Rabbi David Willig, Bayside Jewish Center
(Press release from AMCHA-COALITION FOR JEWISH CONCERNS)