Posted: Nov 21, 2010 at 10:37 AM [Nov 21, 2010]
When you pass by Beth Israel Congregation on Washtenaw Avenue on any Saturday morning between 9:30 and 10:45 – no matter if there's knee-deep snow, minus six-degree temperatures, or thunderstorms - you’re sure to see at least a half dozen people holding nicely-printed signs saying how atrociously Israel is treating the Palestinians. These are the "Vigilers" of the Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF), an organization led by Henry Herskovitz, which has just celebrated its seven-year anniversary this past September.
The group, many of whom had been to Palestine with the Michigan Peace Team or the International Solidarity Movement (which was co-founded by JWPF member Thom Saffold) witnessed the imprisoning conditions under which Palestinians are compelled to live. Other painful observations included the Israeli Defense Forces’ shooting randomly into crowds of civilians at weddings, funerals, and peaceful protests; into houses, too often killing anyone unlucky enough to be standing directly inside, or at children throwing stones at well-armed soldiers or at bulldozers knocking down homes of innocents.
The group's aim was to introduce the public and synagogue members to what was going on in Israel/Palestine, in the absence of unbiased media coverage and because of Henry’s not being permitted to speak to the Congregation inside about his recent trip to Palestine. The Ann Arbor Police Department has – at the instigation of Beth Israel congregants – examined this group from head to toe, and has concluded that its presence on the public sidewalk is completely street-legal.
But it appears from the Zionist community’s statements, letters, and actions that a great many still support Israel's claimed "right" as a Jewish state foisted upon an unwilling population in Palestine. Many congregants would like the Vigilers to go away so that they can pray in peace. But the Synagogue, and all Jewish worship places in this intellectual town, still have an Israeli flag inside and the congregation at Beth Israel still offers the traditional prayer for the state of Israel and its soldiers.
"Why do you keep on vigiling?" several JWPF people were asked. Replied Gloria Harb, of Palestinian heritage, "It’s the only way I can express my outrage. I feel our signs express the ideas our mass media refuse to debate. We say what needs to be said." Marcia Federbush, historically Jewish, said, "We have to remind people once a week of how barbarically the Israelis are treating the Palestinians. This is a good place for people to mention Palestinians in their prayers." And Henry Herskovitz, who in Ann Arbor is considered the arch anti-Zionist spokesperson, answered, "What better place to protest Israel’s atrocities than in front of the House of Israel? (Beth Israel in Hebrew means ‘House of Israel’)."
Well-known activists, like the beleaguered but always cheerful Rev. Edward Pinkney from Benton Harbor, Daniel McGowan, President of Deir Yassin Remembered, and Hedy Epstein, co-founder of the Gaza freedom boats, have come to town to join the JWPF vigils.