A plan to bring thousands of Americans to an international Aug. 13 rally in Jerusalem to support Israel hit a snag after promised private financial backing failed to materialize, The Jewish Week has learned.
While the 72-hour solidarity trip is proceeding, organizers have been forced to backtrack on promised subsidies that would have helped hundreds of people participate at a bargain price of $550 per person, nearly half the full cost of $995.
As a result, thousands of potential participants have dropped out, organizers confirmed.
The loss of private subsidy funds has "decimated our numbers," said Robert Miller, a spokesman for Rally in Israel, an ad hoc New Jersey-based interdenominational group headed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J.In early July, when the trip was first proposed on the Internet, the group was bombarded with nearly 4,000 e-mails expressing interest in joining the rally, with the promised $445 subsidy.
"Our premise was that money was an issue for many people," Miller said.
But on July 17 the group learned that two New Jersey backers pulled out of making a major donation. Organizers declined to name the backers.
After debating whether to cancel the rally, organizers decided to forge ahead but asked participants to pay the $995 per person cost.
"Demand has fallen off since then," Miller acknowledged.
An e-mail from organizers to supporters titled "Rally in Israel Owes You An Explanation" said that "some significant funds that we were counting on fell through. That drastically reduced the number of packages that we could offer at $550."
Explaining why the rally was still being held, the e-mail said: "The last thing we wanted to do was to abandon the citizens of Israel and those of you who met this project with such enthusiasm. Israel's need for our presence NOW has not changed. And our resolve to show our solidarity is even greater. We are very sorry if you were inconvenienced. We hope that your love for Israel and your resolve to show solidarity with the people of Israel remains steadfast."
The $995 tab includes round-trip tickets on El Al, two nights in a Jerusalem hotel, breakfast, tax, tips, tours and guides.
Meanwhile, several local Jewish federations are kicking in subsidies. For example, the UJA federations of Central New Jersey and Greenwich, Conn., agreed to provide $445 for anyone in their areas. UJA-Federation of Bergen and North Hudson is picking up $200 for its residents. UJA-Federation of New York declined tohelp, organizers said. A UJA-Federation of New York spokeswoman said rally organizers never talked with them and that the executive vice president and senior staff never heard of the event.
As of Monday, about 250 people had signed up for the whirlwind trip, Miller said. The first 140 participants will pay the $550 price, funded through other sources.
The trip, spearheaded by Rabbi Goldin, is being promoted as "the first-ever international effort to assemble thousands to rally in Jerusalem whose objective is to demonstrate support for Israel's embattled citizens in their critical struggle for survival."
"It marks the first time Israel's friends, Jewish and Christian, have assembled in the Holy Land from around the world in a visible display of sympathy and support," organizers said.
Rabbi Goldin, who is Orthodox, said the rally is welcoming participants from all Jewish denominations. He said he was not discouraged by the loss of potential participants due to lack of financing.
"I'm convinced if we raised more we could have taken thousands," he said Monday.
Nevertheless, "even if we bring hundreds of people, we are doing more than is being done, and that's good, too."
Rabbi Goldin said he was hoping to attract other Americans in Israel, Europeans and Israelis to his planned Aug.13 rally at the Western Wall. "I think it will be something very worthwhile," he said.
Co-sponsors of the trip include Rabbi Goldin's Shvil Hazahav organization; the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, headed by Rabbi Avi Weiss; Edah, which promotes Modern Orthodoxy; Religious Zionists of America; Amit; Emunah Women of America; and several other small groups.
Rabbi Weiss, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, credited Rabbi Goldin for organizing a "noble mission."
He said the enthusiastic initial response to the trip proves that "thousands of Jews would be prepared to visit Israel but are unable because of money constraints, not only security concerns."
"I think our community is very hung up on numbers," Rabbi Weiss said, "and I think it's important irrespective of the numbers to come out and raise a spiritual voice of Jewish consciousness and solidarity for Israel."