As airstrikes and rocket attacks continued in the conflict between Israel and a heavily armed militia in Lebanon, hundreds of people gathered at Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial yesterday to show their solidarity with Israel.
Waving blue-and-white Israeli flags, nearly 700 people packed the memorial site at Lombard and Gay streets to sing the Israeli national anthem and hear from elected officials, Jewish community leaders and local students who fled Israel after the attacks by Hezbollah started two weeks ago.
"I'm here because of my love for Israel. If we can do anything for them, we must," said Liz Minkin Friedman of Mount Washington, who once spent a year in Israel.
Most in the crowd said that they supported Israel's attacks in Lebanon. More than 90 teenage campers and counselors from a liberal Zionist camp near Bel Air demonstrated with a banner that read "Jews for Peace."
A few dozen protesters gathered across Lombard Street from the monument, chanting and waving pro-peace or pro-Palestine signs.
Many supporters of Israel said they attended the rally to show their support for the actions of the Israeli government and to stand in solidarity with loved ones who live in Israel. They spoke of friends and family members who huddled in shelters, calling or e-mailing during quiet moments to say that they were safe.
Brian Peisach, a 17-year-old senior at Owings Mills High School, was in Israel a week ago when the fighting broke out. He was one of 14 Baltimore-area high school students who traveled to Israel in June as part of a service project.
"When I was there, I didn't realize how awful it was," he said, describing how the buildings shook and the sirens screeched when a missile landed 200 yards from the Baltimore group. The teenagers returned home a week ago.
Samantha Bloom and Gaby Roffe, both 17, were with Peisach on the trip and said that if their parents had not forced them to return, they would have stayed and joined the Israeli army.
"I can't remember the last time I felt as passionate about something as I do about Israel," Roffe said. "We were crying hysterically when we found out we had to go." They recalled volunteering at a nursery school and seeing small children who did not flinch when a missile exploded because they were accustomed to the frequent attacks.
"They won't break the Israeli spirit. We won't let them win this war," said Rafael Harpaz, an official from the Israeli embassy who addressed the crowd. "We need to create a free and democratic Lebanon. We should return Lebanon to the Lebanese people."
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his opponent for governor, Mayor Martin O'Malley, declared their support for Israel at the rally, as did Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.
Several people in the crowd, including Jonathan Benedek of Pikesville, carried signs that said, "No cease-fire with Hezbollah" and spoke out against recent attempts at negotiation.
Protesters who gathered behind a metal fence said that they felt that Israel was too aggressive. Rebecca Cohen of Govans said she is Jewish but does not support Israel bombing Lebanon. "The only thing we want is peace. We want a negotiation," Cohen said.
Campers and counselors from the Habonim Dror camp said they tried to bridge the divide between the two groups.
"We support a peaceful resolution with shared responsibility from both sides," said Zohar Gitlis, 18, a camp counselor from Greenbelt. "A big part of us coming here today is to show that we're Zionists, too."