US rabbis lead Gaza ceasefire protest on last day of Hanukkah
On a cold December evening, a group of rabbis in Philadelphia led hundreds of demonstrators in calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, as they blocked rush-hour traffic on a busy bridge to spread their message as widely as possible.
The gathering on Thursday, organised Jewish Voice for Peace and Rabbis for Ceasefire, along with a coalition of other groups advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza, took place on the eighth and final day of Hanukkah in eight US cities.
Similar demonstrations also took place in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle and Washington, DC, as the death toll in Gaza since 7 October reached nearly 19,000.
Shortly before rush-hour, protesters drove onto Interstate 76 and got out of their cars to block traffic. After the protesters were removed from interstate, with several dozen arrested, a group gathered on Spring Garden Street Bridge before moving onto the front steps of Philadelphia's Art Museum.
Holding signs reading " Let Gaza Live" and "Ceasefire Now" the crowd chanted and sang as they wrapped up the demonstration after nightfall on the last day of Hanukkah.
"The way to celebrate this year is to disrupt business as usual," Alissa Wise, a rabbi with the JVP rabbinical council and a founder of Rabbis for Ceasefire, told The New Arab. "It meant something to celebrate Hanukkah to put on display moral and spiritual clarity."
Linda Holtzman, director of student life at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a member of JVP, told TNA that they are using Hanukkah "to shine a light on what's happening in Gaza".
She said that with each demonstration she is seeing more rabbis joining the ceasefire movement.
"How can we not keep growing? With more people, there's more determination."
Thursday's gathering, though led by rabbis, was multi-faith and multiracial, organised and attended by a coalition of activists.
Lilah Saber, an Egyptian American and an organiser of the demonstration, told TNA, "I've been around this fight my whole life. I'm here to fight with my Jewish siblings." She added, "I'm proud of the coalition we're building."
Standing nearby on the steps of the art museum was Ahmet Tekelioglu, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
He told TNA that he felt proud of this multi-faith and multi-generational movement coming together for their "shared sense of justice and concern for civilian lives." He said, "I'm honoured to be in this crowd."
Wise described the interdependence with different communities as "one of the most powerful things we can do to undermine the logic of Zionism."
She said, "Putting on this display of cooperation is a really important message. People need to be in the streets. There's a catharsis in it."