A desire to demonstrate support for Israel drew an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people Tuesday night to the City Springs complex in Sandy Springs.
They held signs that read, “Atlanta Stand with Israel,” waved small Israeli flags, and wore stickers proclaiming, “My Heart is with Israel.” The nearly 1,100-seat Byers Theatre and 400-seat Studio Theatre were packed, and the city fire marshal’s office estimated that another 2,000 to 2,500 people watched the event on a screen on the lawn outside. Upwards of 1,000 watched the event online.
“I hate that we have to gather like this, but I love that I have all of you to gather with,” Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, said as he welcomed those indoors and outdoors.
The politicians in attendance, from the state, county, and municipal levels, gathered on stage to lead singing of the United States national anthem. The Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” was led by Jewish religious and communal leaders.
A connection between the Jewish community of Atlanta and Israel was the theme of remarks by Rabbi Daniel Dorsch, senior rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim. “We say tonight, as allies, you are not alone and from here, 6,000 miles away, we see your pain,” said Dorsch, who also is president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association. “We share with you in your grief, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your moment and time of need.”
The loudest and most sustained applause of the evening came in response to Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul’s declaration that, in response to the Hamas attacks,
“Israel must do what Israel must do.”
Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock each provided a video.
“We condemned these attacks early on and will continue to stand with the people of Israel and the Jewish people here at home,” Kemp said.
Warnock, who is also senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, said, “Please know and do not doubt for a minute that I am with you in spirit and in solidarity. More importantly, G-d is with you.” His prayer for peace did not specifically condemn Hamas, which may have contributed to the lukewarm applause and the smattering of boos heard inside the theater.
Georgia’s other Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, has been in China with a bi-partisan Senate delegation. Josh Altman, Ossoff’s national security adviser, delivered a statement on his behalf that referred to the “unconscionable brutality” and “utter depravity” of the terror attacks. Altman said that the delegation would be returning earlier than scheduled from a trip that also was to include stops in South Korea and Japan. He urged anyone needing consular support to assist relatives and friends in Israel to contact Ossoff’s office.
The most animated speaker was Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor emeritus at Providence Missionary Baptist Church and a veteran of both the civil rights movement and interfaith activity. From behind a lectern draped with an Israeli flag, the 81-year-old African American minister commanded, “If you love Israel, stand to your feet” and the audience in all three tiers of the Byers Theatre stood. “I’ve come this evening to personally express outrage . . . to unapologetically denounce the barbaric acts of Hamas. My friends here tonight, know that you are not alone in your sorrow. Collectively, we have a moral and ethic responsibility to come together,” receiving a standing ovation when he concluded.
The next speaker, Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner, of Temple Beth Tikvah, smiled and said “And I get to follow that,” before she delivered Psalm 121, which begins: “A song for ascents. I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?” and ends with “The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from now and to eternity.”
Rabbi Adam Starr, of Congregation Ohr HaTorah, paid tribute to Dekel Swissa, a 23-year-old Israeli soldier, killed in combat with the terrorists. In 2018-2019, Dekel was one of the shinshnim, young Israelis who come to Atlanta to live and work with schools and communal organizations. “He loved the Atlanta community, and he loved the institutions that he served, including my own synagogue,” Starr said, before reading reflections from three families with whom Dekel lived in Atlanta.
Shaked Angel, regional director of the Israeli American Council in Atlanta, said that when he hears the names of friends and loved ones killed, “my throat chokes and my heart weeps.” Angel decried antisemitism on high school and college campuses, saying, “It is important that we stand for the state of Israel without compromise and hesitation.”
Consul General of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta, Ambassador Anat Sultan-Dadon received a standing ovation when she introduced herself. “Saturday, October 7th, has changed Israel as we knew it,” she said.
“We are at war, a war not of our choice but one that was forced on us,” Sultan-Dadon said, adding, “We will do everything necessary to protect our country and our citizens, as is the right and duty of any sovereign nation.”
The diplomat also paid tribute to the speech in support of Israel delivered earlier in the day by President Joe Biden, calling it “a beautiful testament of true friendship and ally-ship and a clear moral compass.”
Sultan-Dadon received a second standing ovation at the end of her remarks, when she declared, “Terror will not prevail. Israel will prevail. Am Yisrael Chai,” the last sentence Hebrew that translates to “The people of Israel live.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens recalled a 10-day trip he made to Israel some years ago, including a visit to Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where this week several dozen dead, including an estimated 40 babies, were found when Israeli troops arrived and subdued Hamas terrorists. “It is horrific. It is heartbreaking. too many lives have been lost. Too many people injured. Too many people suffering. The dignity of human life has been stripped away,” Dickens said.
The attendance, inside and outside, was at least three times that of a rally against antisemitism held in the Byers Theatre in January 2020. Tuesday night’s rally was organized over a couple of days and backed by some 30 organizations as co-sponsors and coordinated with the Sandy Springs city council, staff, and police.
“And I hope we never have to do this again,” Robbins said at the end of the evening.
- Dave Schechter
- Atlanta Stand with Israel
- Gaza Strip
- Byer's Theatre
- Eric Robbins
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Rabbi Daniel Dorsch
- congregation etz chaim
- Raphael Warnock
- Atlanta Rabbinical Association
- Mayor Rusty Paul
- Gov. Brian Kemp
- Jon Ossoff
- Josh Altman
- Rev. Gerald Durley
- Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner
- temple beth tikvah
- rabbi adam starr
- Congregation Ohr HaTorah
- Shaked Angel
- Israeli American Council
- Anat Sultan-Dadon
- Andre Dickens