“It was a good night to be a Zionist in Colorado Springs” stated long-time Colorado Springs resident and attorney Manny Weiss after attending an evening event Monday, August 11.
Candles were lit and distributed during a gathering in downtown Colorado Springs as supporters of The Middle East Peace Project and members of the local Jewish community assembled for a “Candle Light Vigil for Gaza.”
It was the third vigil organized recently by The Middle East Peace Project, which is a task force of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission.
Although the stated purpose of the task force is “to promote a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict by advocacy, education and humanitarian aid,” placards carried by participants in previous vigils included statements such as “Israel is a terrorist state,” “let Gaza live, free Palestine” and “End the illegal occupation of Israel.”
Descriptions of the task force’s philosophy, beliefs, and opinions are pro-Palestinian without an acknowledgement of the role that Hamas has played in the region’s intensified conflict and violence.
In Colorado Springs, they have held vigils, boycotted Israeli products in stores, sponsored individuals to visit Gaza, and supported pro-Palestinian gatherings outside the State Capitol in Denver.
When the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission (PPJPC) was founded in 1978 in Colorado Springs, they focused on peace and justice efforts in the Sudan and similar situations.
Their current focus is primarily on Gaza and the perceived injustices against the people of Gaza, although they have sponsored programs events on a wide range of issues from sustainability, non-violence, and social justice.
PPJPC has approximately 400 members whose membership fees sustain the staff and provide resources for programs and events.
Sharon Kushner, Temple Shalom board member, commented: “I had mixed emotions about going to the vigil. On the positive side, they shared prayers from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It wasn’t controversial, but it did appear to be very one-sided.
“While everyone wants to see peace, the one-sided view is clearly coming from the perspective that Gaza is the victim; they believe that Gaza is being oppressed by Israel. It was a pro-Palestinian viewpoint.
“I spoke with an individual about Hamas as the main challenge in this situation, but this individual didn’t want to hear about Hamas, or about any historical facts. They don’t want to hear that Israel is suffering also so in that way, it’s really not a two-sided dialogue.”
Rebecca Berson, who helped spearhead Jewish community participation in the vigil, was glad to see that the gathering was peaceful, not confrontational.
She has been active in social media discussions with the Pikes Peak Peace and Justice Commission over the past few months, and aims to share facts and figures about Israel that “help counter the lack of knowledge about the situation.
“We wanted to show that our Jewish community is comprised of assertive, kind individuals.
“We want them to see us as human beings and strive to get beyond ignorance and stereotypes.
“I don’t think we changed any minds at the vigil, but I hope that this was a small step toward good relationships and genuine dialogue between different religious communities in Colorado Springs.”
Non-Jews also participated in support of Israel by standing alongside those with yarmulkes and Israeli flags and placards.
According to Dave Arnsteen, “we all want peace in the region. We can agree that we all don’t want to see murder and war, but both sides need to acknowledge the facts, the historical facts of Hamas’ military efforts against Israel.”
Some Jewish and non-Jewish tourists saw the group as they walked by the gathering and joined the group, standing next to the Israeli flag.
Two out-of-state tourists who are sisters indicated that they “were very touched and encouraged” by the visible support of Israel from the residents of Colorado Springs.
After the public statements at the gathering, reading of poems and prayers, some stayed to informally discuss their issues and opinions and share their perspectives.
Rebecca Berson, Temple Shalom member, believes that “maybe this was a very small step on a local level at building bridges, and at some visible camaraderie within our nation.”
Dave Arnsteen concluded that the pro-Palestinian vigil members were surprised at the visible presence of Jews in Colorado Springs and their respectful, direct perspective at a public event of this type.
“We sense the underlying anti-Semitism behind many of their actions. However, the root of addressing the Middle East conflict and improving the situation there starts with historical fact and goes beyond opinion, so it’s critical that both sides have a willingness to learn and hear information that may be outside their perspective or knowledge base.”
Arnsteen believes that the knowledge he has gained from participation in a series of adult education courses on the history of the Middle East at Temple Shalom has influenced his long-term perspective on the complexity of the issues and challenges in the region.
According to Steve Saint, media Director for PPJPC, the organization does not believe that a Jewish religious state is necessary, thus, our position is that Zionism is not an effective political philosophy.
“Favoring Jews over others is not good governmental structure so we believe that Zionism is misguided. Long ago in history, tribalism was the norm but tribalism doesn’t serve us now. Tribes and religious groups have become pitted against one another. Weinterested in a just resolution to the conflict which is why we try to advocate and educate. Our organization is not anti-Semitic.
“We believe in non-violence to shake off oppression and improve the situation in the Middle East.
“We want peaceful discussion and dialogue about the issues and concerns, which is why we thought the vigil was a positive step.”
Members of the Jewish community who participated in the vigil disagree, and visibly asserted that Jewish communities around the world must collectively support the State of Israel in every way possible, through local, state, national and international actions.
Rabbi Mel Glazer of Temple Shalom, chose not to attend the rally, yet shared his thoughts about the vigil:
“Israel is here to stay. Israel is not going anywhere. Those who disagree with the existence of the State of Israel could put their energies toward improving America’s imperfections.
“May G-d continue to bless the State of Israel, and may Israel continue to defeat its enemies until they surrender.
“Then, and only then, will there be true justice and peace for Israel and its neighbors.”
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News